Two key legislative issues faced the FOP as the 2014 Legislative Session headed to a finish in December 2014. One is the issue of mandating that law enforcement officers be required to wear body cameras. The other is the matter of prohibiting the posting, publishing on the internet, or disclosing certain information regarding law enforcement officers. The FOP was instrumental in shaping the final outcome of both pieces of legislation. THE BODY WORN CAMERA BILL: SENATE BILL NO. 2649 PASSES IN SENATE ON DECEMBER 18, 2014 As originally introduced on September 18, 2014, the legislation simply states that “every State, county, and municipal law enforcement officer is required to wear a camera, and municipal law enforcement officers are required to wear a camera that electronically records audio and video while acting in the performance of his or her official duties.” When the bill was posted for discussion in the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, the FOP addressed a letter to the sponsor of the bill and all the members of the committee stating it could not support the bill as written based on its vagueness. Subsequently, FOP representatives testified in the Committee. Concerns raised were as follows:
- While the intent of the bill may be positive, lawmakers and police agencies must think critically about the issues that body worn cameras raise and must give careful consideration when developing body worn camera policies and practices.
- When implemented correctly, body worn cameras can strengthen the policing profession, help promote agency accountability and transparency, increase officer professionalism, improve officer training, preserve evidence and document encounters with the public.
- However, they also raise issues as practical matters and at the policy level which must be thoroughly examined, such as police-community relationships, privacy, trust and legitimacy, and internal procedural justice for officers.
- Implementation of a body worn camera program should follow an incremental approach. This means testing the cameras in pilot programs and engaging officers and the community during implementation.
In addition to these concerns, other factors that need to be examined include:
- Financial limitations. The bill as introduced states that the cameras are to be funded by forfeiture funds received by the Attorney General as instrumentalities of crime.
- Regarding privacy matters, the question is raised whether information recorded by body cameras is subject to the New Jersey’s Open Records Act.
- Will witnesses at a crime scene, informants and victims of domestic violence be willing to discuss pertinent information with the understanding they are being recorded.
- Who will guard such information and how will it be secured.
- Most importantly, who decides when the cameras are to be turned on and off.
- And who has access to the information, how is to be secured and what is the financial cost of preserving the information.
Through the efforts of the FOP, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee agreed to amend the bill to establish a 17 member “Police Body Camera Implementation task Force” to study and make recommendations on the use of body cameras by certain law enforcement officers in this State, including but not limited to requirements for implementation and development of best practices for the use of these cameras and rules for access to and use of body camera recordings. The amended bill also defines a “body camera” as a device worn by a law enforcement officer that electronically records audio and video while the officer acts in the performance of his or her official duties. Among the 17 members is designated representative of the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police. The task force is required to report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the legislature no later than June 30, 2015. As of December 18, 2014 the amended bill had passed in the New Jersey State Senate and was awaiting action in the New Jersey State Assembly. LEGISLATION PROHIBITING THE POSTING, PUBLISHING ON THE INTERNET, OR DISCLOSING CERTAIN INFORMATION REGARDING LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS: ASSEMBLY BILL NO. 2829/SENATE BILL NO. 1447 The bills, which are making their way through the Legislature, an initiative of the New Jersey State FOP, would make it a crime for a person to knowingly, with purpose to expose another to harassment or risk of harm to life or property, or in reckless disregard of the probability of this exposure, to post or publish on the Internet the home address or unpublished telephone number of a law enforcement officer, retired law enforcement officer, or spouse or child residing with that officer. A reckless violation of this provision would be a crime of the fourth degree. If a person purposefully violates this provision it would be a third degree crime. The bill also prohibits State and local agencies from posting or publishing on the Internet a home address or telephone number of a law enforcement officer or retired law enforcement officer without first obtaining the officer’s written consent. Persons, businesses, and associations are also prohibited from disclosing on the Internet a law enforcement officer's or retired law enforcement officer’s home address and or unpublished home telephone number under circumstances in which a reasonable person would expose another to harassment or risk of harm to life or property. Violators may be liable for violating the provisions of this bill. The term “disclose” is defined in the bill as soliciting, selling, manufacturing, giving, providing, lending, trading, mailing, delivering, transferring, publishing, distributing, circulating, disseminating, presenting, exhibiting, advertising or offering.