Legislature moves to OK $58M to buy bodycams for police
TRENTON — A bill endorsed Thursday by Senate and Assembly committees that’s scheduled for final legislative approval Monday would allocate $58 million toward buying body-worn cameras for police officers who patrol New Jersey.
Gov. Phil Murphy last month conditionally vetoed a bill that required body cameras but didn’t provide funding for it, beyond the use of forfeiture money law enforcement collects in connection with criminal investigations.
Around two-thirds of police officers in the state don’t wear bodycams, roughly 24,000. Lawmakers are looking to reimburse agencies of officers who do wear them already, either through any money that may be left over in the current bill or from an additional $30 million that is now being considered.
“There is a large number of towns – I know many of them are in my district, and I’m sure we all have them in our districts – that have spent a lot of money. They did the right thing early. They paid for the body cameras, and now they’re in a situation where a whole bunch of new towns are going to get them for free,” said state Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex. “So we want to make sure that any money that might be left over can be used to assist these towns.”
Under the revised bill, police departments that have already bought body-worn cameras can apply for reimbursement starting in 2022. Greenstein is introducing a bill adding $30 million for reimbursements, in anticipation of there not being available money left from the current proposal.
In September, the state Department of Law and Public Safety issued results of a survey finding that less than half of New Jersey’s police departments – 239 out of 537 – outfit at least some of their officers with cameras.
Lawmakers agreed those agencies should be reimbursed.
“The folks that already moved forward, already expended some of these moneys, we ought to be figuring out how to offset some of their costs,” said Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth. “They did the right thing. They moved early. So the amendment and the new bill could help them. And, look, that gets to property tax relief at the end of the day.”
“I’m grateful for the addition allowing the municipalities to have the opportunity to come back and reclaim their money that they invested already,” said Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, D-Mercer.
A few lawmakers abstained from the vote, worried about the cost to the state.
“While I agree with the concept of the bill, I’m going to abstain at this point,” said Assemblyman Kevin Rooney, R-Bergen. “I’m very concerned over the $58 million appropriation.”
“Body cameras I think can be very, very good for our law enforcement officials, good for the community. They inspire confidence in our law enforcement officials,” said Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris. “I am concerned about the appropriation – whether it is enough, and conversely do we have it to spend here in 2020.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.