ELIZABETH — A 90-day pilot program just getting underway in Union County will help the Prosecutor's Office determine, through analysis of body camera footage, if officers at all levels of law enforcement are meeting or exceeding expectations, or if changes in training protocols need to be made.

Acting Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo said bodycams came into use in the county several years ago, and are now being deployed by county and municipal departments alike. A review of the data they provide had been in discussion prior to this year, then was tabled by the COVID-19 pandemic, but efforts were revived in the wake of the national reckoning on police reform brought on by the deaths of George Floyd and others.

"There is just this treasure trove of data that gives indicators about officer performance, officer safety, the service of officers to the community," Ruotolo said.

In this review, superior officers would get to grade a rubric of specific benchmarks that should be met by officers, with special attention paid to mental health calls and motor vehicle stops, including encounters with those driving while intoxicated.

If the bodycam footage reveals that an officer unholstered his or her weapon, there would be a further examination of what precipitated that action.

The aim is to identify, and isolate, the positive from the negative, according to Ruotolo.

"On one end, exceptional performance of duties, and we can commend those officers publicly based on what we're seeing, to deficiencies or abuses," she said.

Ruotolo made the point that once an up-and-coming officer has completed time at the academy, there is little time and few resources to train that officer further. So any outliers from the norm that the bodycam footage reveals will be instructive.

"If we see the same mistakes made by our officers across the county, let's develop a training specific to that deficiency, put it out there, make it available, maybe make it mandatory," Ruotolo said, adding that early detection of problems will prevent further issues down the road, improve officers' training of new partners, and ensure public and officer safety.

At the end of the pilot program, there will be a 30-day period during which the data collected will be analyzed and synthesized into two reports: one to be released publicly, and the other internal. The latter report would be designed to propose potential policy alterations either within individual departments, or across all of Union County law enforcement.

"We're excited to be rolling out policies and training opportunities for our officers that are progressive and can really help improve community-police relations," Ruotolo said.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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