Panasonic gifts Newark cops 80 body-worn, dashboard cameras

By Karen Yi | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
on April 26, 2017

 

NEWARK -- Come Monday, 65 of Newark's police officers in the South Ward will be equipped with cameras when responding to emergency calls. 

Panasonic executives are donating 65 body-worn cameras and 15 dashboard cameras, altogether worth $350,000, to the Newark Police Division. It's the first such donation by the company to a major city in the country, company executives said Wednesday.

The new gear is key to carrying out police department reforms and providing a starting point for the department to begin documenting -- through video -- how its force interacts with the community. 

"Today is about trust, transparency and truth," Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said during a press conference Wednesday at the Panasonic building. "Whenever you have two people or more, there's always three sides to a story. I think these cameras will help advance public safety, advance the police department and also put some trust into our good citizens in the city of Newark."

Ambrose said the department will launch a pilot program on Monday in the South Ward's 5th precinct. A $372,000 Department of Justice grant will allow the department to purchase more cameras in the future and spread the program across the wards. 

The dashboard cameras record 360 degrees -- including in the back seat and behind the police car -- and are programed to automatically begin recording when a siren is turned on. When a dashboard camera turns on, it will trigger a body-worn camera, and vice-versa. 

Officers who do not have a dashboard camera will have to manually turn on the body-worn cameras, officials said. 

Mayor Ras Baraka said the cameras were important for the city, for officers and for constitutional policing.

"It's also in alignment with the consent decree and the federal monitor and allows us to fulfill some of the requirements as stated in the consent decree," Baraka said. 

The DOJ reached the consent decree agreement with Newark in 2016 to drastically reform its police force after a federal probe uncovered civil rights abuses by officers. Between 2009 and 2012, 75 percent of pedestrian stops with a documented reason were unjustified, the probe found.

The donation announcement comes a day after Newark police shot and killed a 23-year-old man along South Orange Avenue and South 20th Street Tuesday night. The incident remains under investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor's Office. 

Ambrose said citizen complaints in the last year have decreased but there remained a long way to go.

He said only uniformed officers will wear the cameras throughout their shift. They will have them on when they go into residences or businesses. Any sensitive video involving a child, a victim, or sexual abuse, will not be released.

In New Jersey, officers who intentionally shut off any dashboard or body-worn cameras could face charges, Ambrose said. Videos will be retained for 90 days and can be requested under the state's public record law, he added. 

"These officers will be ready to go out there Monday morning at 8 a.m. and Newark Police Division will be brought up to 21st century policing," Ambrose said. "This is a long time coming."

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