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Law Requiring NJ Police Cars To Have Dashboard Cameras Ruled Unconstitutional

A 2014 New Jersey law that required new police patrol cars to have dashboard cameras has been made unconstitutional. The decision was ruled Wednesday by a state board saying that it does not provide an adequate funding source.

The ruling was passed by the Council on Local Mandates as a result of a challenge brought by Deptford Township, Gloucester County, saying that it could relieve the strain on municipal budgets across the state. However, no light was thrown on the ongoing political debate on weighing in on the merits over the utility of dashboard and body cameras in improving police accountability.

The previous law, passed in 2014, applied to police vehicles as well as officers involved in traffic stops. The new law says that officers could wear body cameras, instead of having dashboard cameras.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the District of Columbia and 25 other states have laws for police body cameras.

The argument presented was that the $25 surcharge on driving-while-intoxicated penalties did not generate enough funds to pay for the necessary equipment.

Police chiefs in several other South Jersey municipalities agree with the argument. However, they still have to purchase body cameras for the officers. Body cameras hold residents, as well as officers more accountable. They also make it easier for anyone from the public to review complaints and prevent costly legal battles that take place between the municipalities and complainants.

Gary Gubbei, Police Chief of Maple Shade, stated that he would fund body cameras through drug forfeiture money. He said that many departments use this as a resource to purchase cameras, along with the department’s budget.

Gubbei said that the approximate cost of purchasing cameras for the township’s 32 officers is $60,000. He also said that this estimate does not include the storage cost and that the $25 DWU surcharge is not enough to cover the overall cost.

Taking another example, the Camden County Police Department is paying $260,145 to purchase 325 cameras for officers. The department just patrols within Camden City. However, they will need an additional $209,000 for the software and equipment needed to operate and store footage.

Deptford Mayor Paul Medany said that a few of his department’s cars already have dashboard cameras. However, they are way out on body cameras. He said that Deptford township would not buy any more dashboard cameras this year as they were not added to the budget while awaiting the outcome of all this.

A temporary injunction was issued by the nine-member Council on Local Mandates in September, blocking implementation of the measure. The injunction was signed by Gov. Christie.

Evidence submitted by Deptford showed that the surcharge would fall short of funding the installation for either a vehicle-mounted or body-worn mobile video recording system, and that the funding mechanism was “illusory”.

Offers from two vendors were presented by Deptford to the council. One of the offer stated that the body-camera system would cost $251,980 over five years. This will include all costs, including installation, warranties, service, and hardware upgrades, etc.

Deptford also told the council that DWI convictions would not even cover 6% of the cost.

The council was established in 1995 via a constitutional amendment and is independent of the three branches of government. The constitutional amendment empowered it to “resolve any dispute regarding whether a law or rule or regulation issued pursuant to a law constitutes an unfunded mandate.”

The chief justice of the state Supreme Court, the governor, and the legislative leaders appoint the council members. Also, based on the 1995 amendment, the decisions of the council are considered political and not judicial. This leaves open the question of how it could be expected to interpret the law better than the courts.

According to John A. Sweeney, the currently acting chair and a former assignment judge from Burlington County, the ruling could not be appealed as the council operated outside the judicial system.

News Source: www.Governing.com

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