By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Montclair is among the New Jersey police departments that missed a June 1 deadline to have all officers wearing body cameras — an issue Gov. Phil Murphy acknowledged that day affected multiple departments amid a nationwide backlog for the devices. But officials say the cameras are on the way.
“Some, in fairness, are awaiting their order to come through,” Murphy said at a press conference at the Camden Police Department to mark the deadline. “Not surprisingly there has been a run on body cams throughout the nation.” He compared the backlog to the one with computers as the state tackled the digital divide in schools last year.
Town Manger Tim Stafford said at Tuesday night’s Township Council meeting the township had placed its order for cameras for the entire 110-member police force “several weeks ago.”
“The department, like many agencies throughout the state, is awaiting the shipment of body-worn camera equipment purchased by the township,” Chief Todd Conforti said, adding he doesn’t have a delivery date.
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The town has contracted with WatchGuard Video under the New Jersey Cooperative Purchasing Program for the purchase of 117 police body cameras and associated software, batteries, cables, related hardware and support with an initial payment of $107,268 not to exceed the amount of $390,420 over a five-year contract term, according to a resolution dated May 18.
The June 1 deadline also marks the one-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. And this weekend will mark the anniversary of when thousands of Montclairians took to the streets in peaceful protests supporting change in policing, Abraham Dickerson, of Montclair Citizens for Equality and Fair Policing, reminded the Township Council.
While Montclair has equipped all its vehicles with dash cameras since 2005, Conforti has said in the past that the increased cost of storage, licensing and maintenance fees for body camera recordings was prohibitive.
On Nov. 24, 2020, Murphy signed legislation requiring that by June 1 every uniformed patrol officer in New Jersey wear a body worn camera while on duty. In January, Murphy signed another law appropriating $58 million for grants-in-aid to support the statewide body worn camera program.
According to the attorney general’s office list of 487 agencies that will receive state funding, Montclair will receive $236,408 in grants to cover the implementation of its body cam rollout.
According to the state Attorney General’s Office, only half of the law enforcement agencies in New Jersey had equipped their officers with body cameras as of September last year.
In Camden, Murphy said that he was aware that “some” departments had not made the June 1 deadline.
Steven Barnes, director of communications in the Attorney General’s Office, said due to the high demand for the body cameras, “many” law enforcement agencies continue to work toward compliance with the body-worn camera mandate and remain at various stages in the procurement process.
“We expect all law enforcement agencies will continue to work in good faith to achieve compliance with the mandate as soon as practicable,” Barnes said.
Conforti said once the cameras are received, the appropriate training for the officers will follow.
“The department is currently drafting a policy regarding this equipment and its usage to reflect the guidelines issued by the Attorney General’s Office. Once approved, and upon the completion of the appropriate officer training and when the system is deemed functional, a copy of this policy, along with photographs of the body-worn cameras and examples of how it will be equipped on the officers, will be made available to the public via the township’s website,” Conforti said.
According to rules issued by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in late May, police will be required to have their cameras activated in almost all encounters with the public. The policy includes a number of new rules for body cameras, including a requirement that officers notify citizens when they are being recorded; deactivate a camera upon the request of a crime victim; and refrain from recording to gather intelligence information based on First Amendment protected speech, associations or religion.