FTPD Body Cams Set To Hit The Streets On February 1

The Franklin Township Police Department’s more than 65 uniformed officers are among those scheduled to add body-worn cameras to their equipment list around February 1, a police department spokesman said.

The cameras became mandatory thanks to a 2020 law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy. Their use, and the storage and maintenance of videos recorded with them, are heavily regulated by the state Attorney General’s guidelines.

FTPD Capt. Phil Rizzo said the department is in the middle of a 5-year, $750,000 program to equip the department with the cameras, and also pay for “back end” systems for the program.

The initial cost was $280,000, which paid for the cameras and 20 Tasers, Rizzo said.

The department in June 2021 received a $183,420 grant from the state to help pay for the cameras.

The remainder of the contract will be used to pay for a service contract for the cameras, and “cloud” storage, Rizzo said.

He said the department is looking into additional hires to maintain and research the stored videos. Those tasks, he said, will consume “an exorbitant” amount of hours.

There are about 65 patrol and other uniformed officers who will receive the Axon cameras, Rizzo said. He said in some cases, detectives will also be supplied cameras.

“The Attorney General’s Office is very specific as to how and when they will be worn,” Rizzo said. “Detectives will wear them under very specific circumstances.”

The department’s school resource and Class III officers will not wear the cameras, he said.

People interacting with police can ask if they are being videoed, and also can ask that the officer not record them, Rizzo said. It’s up to the officer to decide whether to honor the request.

“If the officers believe they’re investigating an ongoing crime, such as domestic violence, they are permitted to refuse that request,” Rizzo said.

The remainder of the cameras will be kept as spares and assigned to officers in the Traffic Bureau, Rizzo said.

Rizzo said the officers are now being trained in using the cameras and the Tasers.

Acknowledging that there are not enough cameras to supply one to each officer yet, Rizzo said he envisions teh program will expand.

“I’m assuming that as we move forward, and as the program becomes more robust, I believe it’s our ultimate vision to issue one to every officer upon being hired,” he said.

The FTPD has been flirting with body worn cameras since 2015, when then-Police Chief Lawrence Roberts told the Township Council that he was looking into the cameras for the department.

Later that year, the FTPD received a $1,300 grant to buy three body worn cameras, part of what Lawrence called an “internal pilot program.”

Delays in the state Attorney General and Somerset County Prosecutor’s offices in creating guidelines, and also uncertainty of where the “back end” money would come from delayed the deployment of the cameras, and in 2017 the original cameras were found to be obsolete.

Roberts then dipped into the department’s “forfeiture money” fund to buy three more cameras.

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