New Body Worn Cameras Regulations in NJ Criminal and Civil Rights Police Encounters

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

On July 28, 2015, the New Jersey Attorney General issued a new directive on the use of Body Worn Cameras. This new directive responds to the obvious need to document police encounters in the wake of the deaths of unarmed civilians in Ferguson, Missouri, South Carolina, and New York, among other places.

The Directive does not mandate the acquisition or deployment of body worn cameras. Rather, the decision to acquire body worn cameras, and the decision as to when and in what circumstances officers will be equipped with them, is left to each law enforcement agency. If a department decides to equip an officer with a body worn camera, the Directive provides guidance on how the device is to be used, when it will be activated, when it might be de-activated in the course of an unfolding police-civilian encounter, and when a body worn camera recording may be accessed, viewed, copied, disseminated, or otherwise used. In providing such guidance, the Directive establishes certain foundational requirements that all police departments must satisfy. Law enforcement agencies nonetheless are expressly authorized to impose additional requirements beyond —but not inconsistent with —those established in this Directive. In this way, police agencies are afforded an opportunity to tailor their body worn camera policies and procedures to address local concerns and needs.

Although police executives are afforded some flexibility in developing departmental policies and practices that address local needs and community concerns, the Directive makes clear that all policies must limit the discretion of individual officers in the field. The decision to activate a body worn camera must be based on objective criteria (e.g., the initiation of a specified type of police action, such as a consensual field inquiry, or the start of an officer’s duty shift). Further, in any circumstance where an officer is afforded discretion in deciding whether to de-activate a body worn camera, the reasons for exercising that discretion must be documented to permit supervisory review.

Within 60 days of the issuance of the Directive, every law enforcement agency that already has equipped any of its officers with a body worn camera shall promulgate and enforce a policy, standing operating procedure, directive, or order, in a form as may be appropriate given the customs and practices of the agency, which shall comply with the policies, standards, and requirements of the Directive. In the event that an agency has not deployed body worn cameras prior to the issuance of the Directive, the agency shall not deploy or use body worn cameras without first promulgating a policy, standing operating procedure, directive, or order in accordance with this paragraph.

Any policy, standing operating procedure, directive, or order promulgated by an agency pursuant to the Directive shall provide that: 1) a law enforcement officer employed by the agency only may use a body worn camera system that has been issued and approved by the agency; 2) an officer equipped with a body worn camera must comply at all times with the requirements established in the Directive and in the agency’s policy, standing operating procedure, directive, or order issued pursuant to the Directive; 3) a body worn camera shall be used only in performance of official police duties and not for personal purposes; 4) no body worn camera recording shall be accessed, viewed, copied, disseminated, or otherwise used by a sworn officer or civilian employee of the agency except for an official purpose specified in this Directive; and 5) any sworn officer or civilian employee of the agency who knowingly violates the requirements of the Directive or the agency’s policy, standing operating procedure, directive, or order shall be subject to discipline.

For individuals who have a potential civil rights matter in the federal or state courts of New Jersey, who are facing federal criminal prosecution or sentencing in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, or state criminal prosecution or sentencing in the criminal courts of New Jersey, or who are appealing their criminal matters before the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the New Jersey Appellate Division, or the Supreme Court of New Jersey, it is critical to have an experienced federal and state New Jersey civil rights and criminal attorney represent you. The experienced civil rights attorneys and criminal defense lawyers of Schwartz & Posnock appear in all Federal Courts of New Jersey, as well as the State and Municipal criminal courts in New Jersey, and have convenient locations in Monmouth County (Eatontown), Essex County (Livingston), Union County (Linden), and Middlesex County (East Brunswick). Call us at 732-544-1460 or email us at info@schwartzposnock.com to schedule an appointment.

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