Police lights/NYPD (299278)
Police lights/NYPD Credit: Image by tevenet from Pixabay

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the ACLU-NJ released “To Record and Protect,” a policy brief calling on State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to establish a First Amendment policing policy to reaffirm the rights of community members who record police encounters.

“George Floyd. Eric Garner. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray. Alton Sterling. We know these names because concerned bystanders bravely recorded tragic acts of police violence,” the groups said in the brief. “How many more names do we not know and how many stories will we not hear, simply because no one was there to record?”

The groups warn that police officers who try to intimidate or otherwise prevent residents from recording, may be infringing on First Amendment rights. Among the groups’ demands is a policy that outlines the scope of the First Amendment right to record police and prohibits officers from discouraging, intimidating or retaliating against people who verbally criticize police or record their conduct.

“As we seek to increase transparency and build trust, it is critical to empower community members—just like Darnella Frazier, who filmed George Floyd’s murder—to hold law enforcement accountable through exercising their First Amendment rights to criticize and record police conduct,” they said.

Last week, Grewal announced a police body camera policy for police in New Jersey requiring that all uniformed patrol officers be equipped with them, expanding the policy’s mandate to additional officers, and ensuring appropriate use of cameras.

In November 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation requiring that by June 1 every uniformed patrol officer in New Jersey wear a body-worn camera. Since that time, law enforcement agencies, county prosecutors, and the attorney general’s office have taken steps to implement the policy in order to utilize police body cams.

Previously, fewer than half of the law enforcement agencies in the state had BWCs. In January, Murphy signed another law appropriating $58 million for grants-in-aid to support the statewide body-worn camera program.

“Body-worn cameras have the support of police as well as the public, because the accountability they provide is mutual—everyone behaves better when they know they are on camera,” Grewal said. “Body cameras not only promote safer and more professional law enforcement interactions, they assist police in gathering evidence and serve to reduce unfounded complaints against officers. Officers report that body-worn cameras can even help to de-escalate volatile situations.”