FTPD Preparing Body Camera Program

Township police held another in their series of live streamed “Tuesday Night Talks” on January 19.

Township police brass are shopping for the best deal in body-worn cameras, in anticipation of a state deadline mandating their use that’s just months away.

Public Safety Director Quovella Spruill said during the FTPD’s “Tuesday Night Talk” live stream that she has been pricing cameras, and will have a proposal in time for the department’s budget presentation before the Township Council later this year.

“We will continue shopping to make sure we get the best deal for the township and keep our spending down,” she said.

In November, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law bills requiring police officers in many cases to wear activated body cameras, and also setting aside $58 million to help towns pay for them.

The mandate that the cameras be worn goes into effect in about five months.

The cost of the body cameras is not just for the actual camera. Storing the video will also cost towns.

The bill mandates that all video footage should be kept for at least 180 days, with video of arrests or police using force should be kept for at least three years.

Spruill said she supports the use of the cameras to help promote transparency in the police department, to document evidence and also to protect officers and the public from false charges.

Also participating in the virtual meeting was Township Councilwoman Crystal Pruitt (D-At Large), who said that “any opportunity for law enforcement or state authorities to be transparent is critically important. Even if it wasn’t a law, I would be supportive of our department wearing body cams.”

“Having this camera as video and audio evidence is really important on cracking down on some of the things that communities of color rightfully fear, which is police misconduct and police brutality,” Pruitt said.” So it’s no longer just the policeman’s word against mine … it balances the scales and has an unbiased record of the interaction.”

“That’s really important because that can address injustices, it can address improper behavior, but also keeps the officer safe by having that proof,” she said.

Spruill said officers who turn off their cameras when they should be on face being charged with a 4th Degree crime.

“Ninety nine percent of the officers want the body cams because they know when they make that arrest, that’s an accurate record of what occurred,” she said. “All of the cars have cameras on them. The body cams will provide extra security.”

Responding to a comment from a resident, FTPD Capt. Phil Rizzo said the cameras might not show a viewer of teh video everyt8hing that’s going on at a scene.

“Sometimes when we are on the scene, there are tactile clues that we see,” he said. “They’re tapping their foot, or they’re sweating on a cold day. When we try to arrest them, they tense up.”

“It only shows the one dimension, it doesn’t show what’s going on around the entire scene,” Rizzo said. “If you only look at the camera footage one way, you don’t see that there’s a group of people behind me who are very angry.”

Spruill said cost is going to be a factor in the eventual camera purchase program.

“We’ve been shopping,” she said. “We think we pretty much have a good fiscal plan. The only way I can describe it is layaway.”

“We’re not planning on doling out the entire amount at once,” Spruill said. “We have plans in place, we won’t get a big punch at once, and I think it will work. We are being very fiscally responsible about this because we know it’s a very expensive venture … and we’re thinking, and we have a good plan set forth to present” to the Council.

The cameras, Pruitt said, are “one piece of what should be a multi-disciplinary approach of how we look at policing.”

“They’re just one more tool for officers to have to protect themselves and another way for the public to feel protected,” she said.

FTPD Capt. Brian Regan, who heads the Patrol Division, said the body cameras will be a progression from the dashboard cameras that are in FTPD patrol cars.

“It’s going to offer a different perspective when it’s on,” he said of the cameras. The dashboard cameras “helped us in a lot of ways in the past, when we had to appear in court, what actually took place. Not just the officer’s interaction, but what happened before the lights and sirens went on.”

Regan said that by the time the camera program is rolled out, “we’ll have the best cameras for the money.”

Policies and procedures governing their use, he said, “will be unique to Franklin Township.”

The plan, Regan said, is “going to be comprehensive so when we do roll it out, it’s going to be right.”

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