Assemblyman Paul Moriarty: Saved by a police car video, and more cruisers need cameras
By Paul Moriarty
Special to the Times
This month marks the second anniversary of my so-called “fall from grace.” It was July 31, 2012, when I became the latest poster child for out-of-control, corrupt politicians. That was the day I was arrested in Washington Township for driving recklessly and driving drunk.
I made the front page of the local newspapers, the lead story on local TV news. Bloggers called me a hypocrite. Political opponents called for my resignation. And a whole lot of folks had a field day making fun of the latest “bigwig” to fall on his face.
Just one problem: None of it was true. I hadn’t done anything wrong. I was falsely accused, my civil rights violated.
I’ll spare you all the details, but in the end, all charges against me were dropped. The arresting officer is now awaiting trial on 14 counts of official misconduct, falsifying a police report, false swearing, and other charges that could potentially send him to jail for many years.
How was I able to turn the tables and prove my innocence? I got lucky. It was all on video!
The officer’s own dashboard camera clearly contradicted all of his charges and his official police report. Instead of driving recklessly and drunk, the video showed me driving responsibly and behaving normally.
But, as I said, I was lucky. The odds had not been in my favor. Of the 50 police cars in the township’s fleet, 41 of them were not equipped with video cameras. Had this cop been driving one of them, my political career would likely have been finished and my reputation ruined.
Fortunately, what I experienced is fairly atypical. More often than not, it’s the police who are unfairly accused of wrongdoing or inappropriate behavior. Without visual evidence to the contrary, they are often subjected to internal affairs investigations, accusatory headlines and frivolous lawsuits.
That’s why we need a standard approach to video cameras in New Jersey’s police cars.
My legislation, Assembly Bill 2280, would make video cameras standard equipment on police cars throughout the state. Specifically, each municipality would be required to install dashboard cameras or officer-body cameras in all new or leased vehicles that are primarily used for traffic stops.
The cost of the equipment would be underwritten by a new $25 surcharge that would be imposed on convicted drunk drivers.
This legislation easily passed the state Assembly and Senate on two occasions. The first time, Gov. Chris Christie “pocket-vetoed” the bill and gave no reason for his action. Now, the bill is back on his desk awaiting his signature. It is in the best interest of the citizens of New Jersey that he approve this legislation.
– Video evidence is good for both law enforcement officers and citizens. It doesn’t lie, distort or forget.
– When everyone knows they are being recorded, they typically act more appropriately. Thus, fewer “chips” on shoulders and less verbal abuse.
– Video evidence is a good hedge against costly litigation because it severely reduces unfounded claims from citizens and law enforcement officers.
– Video evidence is being used every day to solve crimes, from high-profile international cases like the Boston Marathon bombings to local cases like the New Jersey man who was exonerated, earlier this year, when dashboard video showed him being attacked by two Bloomfield cops who were subsequently indicted. Overseas, in Britain, Scotland Yard reports that 70 percent of homicides are being solved using video surveillance evidence.
– Every New Jersey State Police cruiser is equipped with a video recording device. Nationally, more than 70 percent of state police and highway patrol vehicles have the equipment. Why shouldn’t there be standards for local police as well?
– Finally, when every first-grader with a smartphone is shooting and posting videos and nearly every mom-and-pop corner store in America has a video surveillance system, why wouldn’t our local police have video in their cruisers?
Finally, you might ask, if this is such a good idea, why haven’t police departments done this voluntarily? Why do we need a law?
Well, many have installed cameras. Some are reluctant because of cost. Others may not see the benefits or may fear being portrayed in a negative light. Mandating the cameras is the only way to assure a uniform approach and ensure compliance throughout the state.
So, let’s help take local law enforcement into the 21st century. If you support this legislation, please call Gov. Christie and ask him to sign A-2280. His signature could prevent the next miscarriage of justice in New Jersey.
Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-4, resides in Washington Township, where he was formerly the mayor. He represents parts of Gloucester and Camden counties. To contact the governor, call 609-292-6000, or email him through his website at www.state.nj.us/governor/contact.