On Feb. 4, the Princeton Police Department began a body camera pilot with six police officers, starting the trial phase of a program initiative four years in the making.
The program is intended to increase transparency between the public and the department.
“Many people are not aware of what we do or why we do certain things and body/mobile car cameras help us to memorialize our actions and help us to better explain our actions which I believe creates trust and legitimacy in our mission,” Princeton Chief of Police Nicholas Sutter wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian. “Cameras also help us to evaluate our officers, train them more effectively, and adjust and develop policy.”
According to Mayor Liz Lempert, the expansive use of body cameras in police departments, the decreased cost of the technology, and the developed camera policy around the country across the last few years has made this a suitable time for implementing the program.
“The municipality has benefitted from taking our time to implement a program,” Lempert wrote to the ‘Prince.’ “Body cameras are increasingly an important tool for police departments. The footage provides a detailed record of incidents and having cameras also helps build and maintain trust with members of the community.”
Leaders of the University activist group Students for Prison Education and Reform, Mohammad Al-Mohimine ’23 and Mikayla Green ’22, provided the ‘Prince’ with a statement commending the Princeton Police Department for initiating the program and suggesting that the cameras be turned on at all times to promote the department’s goal of transparency.
They also pointed out that, while body cameras are “a step in the right direction,” they do not entirely fix the American policing system.
“There are countless cases where even with body cameras on, officers still committed heinous acts of violence on people,” Al-Mohimine and Green wrote. “The department should keep this in mind and perhaps provide further training to their officers so they have a better grasp on how to handle situations without resorting to excessive violence."
In 2015, the Princeton Police Department received a $15,000 grant from the Christie Administration to purchase body cameras. However, Princeton officials held off initially in order to assess the progression of the use in other towns first and to explore the costs of providing the cameras for the entire department.
Additionally, Sutter noted that he and the command staff have “attended multiple training and information sessions, met with numerous vendors, and discussed policy with many organizations who have implemented a program.”
The Princeton Police Department reviews the body camera footage on a daily basis to check for proper functionality.
According to Sutter, the official program is intended for full implementation by July 2020 after a final decision to purchase the equipment is established and released to the public.