Civil rights groups in New Jersey are speaking out against recently passed legislation that allows police to view camera footage to write reports. The groups say legislation undermines civil rights, gives undue power to police to explain away misconduct, and weakens the utility of officer memory.
S3939/A5864 allows officers to watch body cam footage of an incident before writing their reports in the vast majority of circumstances, including most incidents that lead to arrests and criminal charges.
Organizations, including the ACLU-NJ, testified in opposition. The Newark Communities for Accountable Policing (NACP) is also voicing outrage. The bill was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Phil Murphy, passed again by the Legislature, and signed into law last week.
“Body-worn cameras can be an invaluable tool for accountability, but without sensible and fair policies for their use, they’re simply tools for surveillance that give police unfair advantages over the public,” said Sarah Fajardo, policy director for the ACLU-NJ. “To grapple with the injustices of excessive police power, we need to work toward eliminating unfair practices of law enforcement, not emboldening them.”
The legislation undermines a law signed by Murphy in 2020 and a directive from the Office of the Attorney General for New Jersey implemented in May 2021—one year after Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd—which prohibits officers from viewing body cam footage prior to filing written reports in almost all cases.
“This bill turns the body camera from a device to protect citizens and create accountability and transparency into a device to protect the police from their own bad actions,” said Matt Dragon of the Mercer County chapter of Our Revolution.
“One has to look no further than the initial police report that George Floyd had a medical issue and died to understand why this bill is flawed, and with likely fatal consequences.”
NCAP launched a statewide network of almost two dozen social justice organizations now called NJ Communities for Accountable Policing to garner support for the Civilian Complaint Review Board bill and other important police reform bills.
“This is not angry white male Republicans,” said NCAP’s Zayid Muhammad. “This is Murphy and a legislature full of Democrats who did nothing of genuine substance on police reform but this offensive deed. At a time when Trump and other dangerous forces are actively undermining our very right to vote, this was outrageous.”