Township Police Receive Funding For Three Body Cams; Will Approach Program Slowly

Police Chief Lawrence Roberts

Township Police Chief Lawrence Roberts said that the three body worn cameras requested by FTPD will be used as a pilot program for the department.

The township police department will receive $1,347 for the purchase of three body worn cameras under a grant program from the state Attorney General’s Office.

Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced at a Dec. 21 press conference that $2.5 million has been earmarked for 176 police departments throughout the state. The money comes from criminal forfeiture funds, according to a press release from the Attorney General’s office.

The money will be used to buy nearly 5,000 body cameras statewide, according to the release.

Franklin is one of four Somerset County towns to request and receive funding for the cameras, according to the release. The other there were Bridgewater, which received $31,437 for 70 cameras; North Plainfield, which received $10,000 for 20 cameras and Somerville, which received $6,736 for 15 cameras.

The township police department requested the cameras as part of an internal pilot program, Chief Lawrence Roberts said in a statement.

“The actual method of deployment has yet to be determined,” he said.

“Prior to deploying these tools, policies and procedures must be developed,” Roberts said. “We anticipate clarification on the current Attorney General’s directive in the near future from the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office. Once this occurs, our policy will be developed and the cameras will be deployed.”

Lawrence said the department took a similar approach in the mid-1990s, when marked patrol cars were outfitted with mobile video cameras.

“When we obtained mobile video cameras in our cars in the mid 90’s we started with only a couple of vehicles,” he said in the statement. “This allowed us to evaluate the effectiveness of the tool as well as the pros and cons they provided to our overall mission and goals. Eventually, more and more MVRs were deployed until the entire marked fleet was outfitted. Taking an approach such as this allows us to deal with issues that may arise in the program on a small scale. It also allowed for appropriate budgetary allotments that were not anticipated in prior years.”

“We plan on taking the same approach with body worn cameras,” Roberts said. “After utilizing the three that will ultimately be deployed, we will reassess the program and move forward accordingly.”

The Attorney General’s directive was issued on July 28, 2015, and includes guidelines on who should receive the body cams, when they should and should not be used and for how long the recordings should be kept.

It’s that last issue that can be the sticking point for some departments. The AG regulations require the videos to be stored for longer periods of time – in some instances, years – then traditional evidence and reports.

The storage, maintenance and retrieval of those recordings can drastically increase the price of a body worn camera system, some, such as Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato, maintain.

Coronato, speaking in November to the radio station NJ101.5, said those concerns spill over into a department’s budget considerations.

“So, those are all the issues that need to be resolved before a police department can go forth, and I think that’s why initially you’re seeing some of the smaller police departments can embrace it a little bit easier than the larger police departments,” Coronato told the radio station.

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