A controversial bill regulating the review of police body camera footage has passed the New Jersey Senate and Assembly.
The bill is an amendment to previous legislation signed into law earlier this month that required to officers to activate a body worn camera whenever responding to a call except under specific circumstances.
The new bill proposes changing a section of the previous bill to permit officers to view body cam footage prior to writing an initial report.
Critics are worried that the proposal, which passed the Senate 31-4 and the Assembly 74-0 with the amendments, would allow officers to leave out incriminating details from an incident if they knew what the footage actually depicted.
Police unions argued that the bill would allow for more accurate reports if police could see the footage beforehand to better recall the event.
Under the previous body cam footage law, officers were “prohibited from reviewing or receiving an accounting of certain body worn camera recordings prior to creating any initial reports, statements, and interviews regarding the recorded event,” but can view the footage after and make subsequent amendments to their report.
After the law was passed, New Jersey’s Police Benevolent Association stated, “The current restriction on reviewing camera footage presents significant concerns for writing clear and detailed reports.” With the union’s support, lawmakers immediately set about creating a bill to change the ruling.
Social justice and civil rights organizations pushed back.
Derick Dailey, a former federal prosecutor and legal fellow with the nonprofit Slavation and Social Justice, claimed that the change would prevent more honest and transparent perspectives of an event from being recorded.
“This bill would permit officers to tailor their reports to fit the footage, potentially leaving out important details relating to their intentions, motivations and behaviors,” he said.
In the bill, lawmakers still prohibit police from initially watching video in the case that an officer fired a gun, used physical force, had a complaint filed against him/her or during certain internal affairs investigations.
The bill also includes another amendment to allow the “person who is the subject of a police report” to watch body camera footage before “preparing an initial report or statement” — as long as police are also allowed to review the video.
State Senator Nia Gill said this provision could have “unintended consequences” if potential murderers or rapists could gain access to police video.
The bill has yet to be signed by N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy.