Police in Atlantic City are the latest of at least 20 law enforcement agencies in New Jersey to start wearing body cameras during patrols.
The number could grow if Gov. Chris Christie signs a law on his desk that would require that many police vehicles have cameras mounted on them. The lower-priced wearable cameras also would be an alternative under the law, which Christie has not said whether he will support. He has until Sept. 8 to take action on the measure.
The cameras have been gaining in popularity and have been thrust into a bigger spotlight since the fatal shooting this month of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. That shooting has set off protests, some of them violent.
Advocates have said that if the officer had been wearing a camera, it would be clearer what happened before he fired.
Atlantic City police have been accused of using excessive force in a few cases over the past year — including one case where a police officer has been accused of having a department K-9 attack a man. Police officials have talked about trying to improve the department’s image.
In Riverton, a small town between Trenton and Philadelphia, the department began using cameras about two years ago. Taser International Inc., which says it’s the largest provider of the cameras to law enforcement agencies in the U.S., says 20 in New Jersey are using their systems. Riverton was the first department in the state to buy them, starting in July 2012.
All six officers, including Chief John Shaw, wear them while on patrol or responding to calls.
Their collar-mounted cameras film constantly. But footage is deleted every 30 seconds unless an officer pushes a button to keep it. When that happens, video and audio are saved from the prior 30 seconds until the recording is stopped.
Shaw said officers have learned to engage the system whenever they stop a car or knock on a door.
He said having the devices may have “minimized” internal affairs investigations in some foot chases and arrests because the footage shows officers handling incidents properly.
“When everything is on camera anyway, we might as well have our own recording,” he said.
He said more action is caught on the wearable cameras than in those mounted on squad cars — so much so that his department is phasing out the car-mounted units.