Don’t forget to smile next time you’re around a West Windsor Police officer.
The department’s officers began wearing body cameras on Feb. 20, which the police officials say will provide more transparency to the public as well as additional video evidence for criminal prosecutions.
Sgt. Danny Mohr called it a “valuable tool” which will protect both officers and the public.
Mohr says patrol cars have had dashboard cameras throughout his 18-year stint with the police department.
“Now we’re attaching them to our uniforms,” Mohr said. The camera is black and three inches in length by two inches in width. A camera is activated when a slide is pushed open, revealing a green indicator.
West Windsor purchased 35 body cameras last year for $39,200 from L3 Mobile-Vision Inc., and the equipment arrived in November.
The township received $17,500 in grant money from the state attorney general’s office.
There are 47 officers in the department. Patrol and traffic officers are equipped with the cameras, while officers in the detective and administrative divisions are currently camera-free.
Officers will turn on their body cameras during an automobile stop or when responding to a call for service, for example a shoplifter at a store. The department’s body camera policy reflects guidelines issued by the state attorney general’s office.
Mohr said if an officer enters someone’s house, the resident can ask for the body camera to be turned off.
“At that point, it’s the officer’s discretion whether to turn it off,” Mohr said. “If it’s a volatile situation, if the officer feels he is in danger, the officer could choose to leave it on.”
An officer can similarly turn off the camera when responding to a call for at a school, religious facility, hospital or substance abuse center.
Like videos recorded by a patrol car’s dashboard camera, videos by body cameras are public documents accessible via an Open Public Records Act request. Dashboard car videos are stored for a minimum of 30 days, and a minimum of 90 days for body camera video.
However, footage may be attached to an ongoing criminal investigation and considered sealed evidence.
The department chose L3 Mobile-Vision as the vendor mainly because it aligns with the L3 dashboard cameras and software. Additional computer and server storage equipment was needed.
“We did do research on other cameras and their functions,” Mohr said. “They all relatively do the same thing.”
Meanwhile, the Plainsboro police department implemented body cameras for each of its 36 officers last August. The town purchased 36 cameras from Taser for $38,669 and also received an $18,000 grant from the state attorney general’s office.