NJ police bodycams


Which NJ police forces use bodycams?

New Jersey will provide bodycams (the State calls them “body worn cameras” or “BWCs”) to 1,000 state troopers, just under 1/3 of the total number of officers.   The approximately 21,875 local police are not directly covered.  However, the Governor’s Office issued a press release in late June 2015 announcing that the State will set aside $2.5 million in criminal forfeiture funds for counties to distribute to local police, with aid capped between $75,000 and $150,000 per county.

On July 28, 2015, New Jersey’s Attorney General issued a Directive with mandatory, although flexible, guidelines that police must follow when using bodycams.  Among other things, it covers notice issues, the circumstances for activating and deactivating body cams, and retention and access to footage.


Which officers use bodycams?

Chiefs of police will determine which officers get bodycams and when they should use them.  Officers cannot wear bodycams unless they are authorized to do so and trained in their use.


When can police NOT use bodycams?

Officers cannot use bodycams for personal purposes (“when they are on break, eating meals, in the restroom, etc.”).  They cannot use bodycams when engaged in police union business, or to record counseling, guidance, or personnel evaluation sessions or supervisory actions.  Bodycams cannot be used in certain alcohol breath test areas, due to radio interference with some breathalyzers.

Additionally, officers cannot film in courtrooms unless they are responding to a service call, authorized to use force, or authorized by a judge.  Police also cannot normally use bodycams to film in:

- Schools or youth facilities where minor children would be in view of the camera;

- Healthcare facilities, medical offices, or substance abuse treatment facilities where patients would be in view of the camera;

- Places of worship where worshipers would be in view of the bodycam.

Police cannot film if they might capture footage of an undercover officer or confidential informant.  However, a confidential informant or undercover officer can be filmed with the express authorization of a supervisor, or if recording would be required due to “the exigency of the situation and danger posed to an officer” (e.g., active shooter, actual use of police force, officer in distress, etc.).

Police also cannot activate or deactivate a bodycam based on race – a form of racial profiling.


When do police have to use bodycams?

Both uniformed and plainclothes police must use, and cannot turn off, bodycams 1) when approaching a scene in the belief that deadly force has been used, 2) when transporting an arrestee to a jail or medical facility, or 3) when they or another officer on scene has requested emergency assistance.

Then there is a more extensive set of rules uniformed officers must follow.  Except in certain cases, the Directive requires police to use bodycams under the following conditions, or when they reasonably believe any other officer on the scene is:

- making an arrest;

- frisking for weapons;

- responding to a call near or at their dispatch point;

- interviewing a witness in the course of a criminal investigation;

- initiating an investigative detention (e.g. traffic stop, checkpoint);

- conducting a search (whether or not consensual);

- conducting a custodial interrogation of a suspect, unless otherwise recorded by station house equipment;

- transporting an arrestee to a police station, jail or prison, or health care facility.

- using or reasonably believing it will be necessary to use constructive authority or force based on specific and articulable facts warranting heightened caution;

- conducting a motorist aid or community caretaking check;

- engaging in certain police responses to civil disorder.

The Attorney General has granted local agencies and County Prosecutors the ability to specify additional circumstances for the use of bodycams.  Essex County, for instance, has mostly adopted the conditions set out above.  Local agencies have somewhat greater flexibility in setting out policies for when plainclothes officers must be equipped with or use bodycams.  However, any department policy must limit the discretion of all officers in the field.


Can police turn off their bodycams if they want to?

Police equipped with bodycams have discretion to turn off their bodycams, limited by the policies set forth by their local department and the Attorney General’s directive.  For instance, the Attorney General’s directive allows an officer to deactivate a bodycam when specifically authorized by ‘an assistant prosecutor or deputy attorney general.’

Unless prohibited by his or her department, an officer may deactivate a bodycam during discussions or strategy and planning sessions about criminal investigations – as long as the discussion is not in the presence of a civilian and they are not collecting evidence (like ‘conducting a search’).  Officers may also choose to deactivate body cameras in response to requests from cooperating civilians or people seeking medical assistance.

However, officers must narrate the circumstances of deactivation.  They must also reactivate their bodycams as soon as it is safe and practicable: when the circumstances justifying deactivation no longer exist, and when using bodycams would ordinarily be justified, including when force is authorized.



Do police have to turn off their bodycams if I ask them to?

The Attorney General’s Directive does not mandate any context in which police must deactivate bodycams.  For instance, police are not supposed to record in certain places, like places of worship.  However, they may record even in these places if ‘actively investigating a crime, responding to an emergency, or reasonably believes they will have to use force.’  They may also record in such places without problem if no people would be expected to be there – as with an an empty church on a Tuesday afternoon.

In some cases police may not deactivate their bodycams even if asked, such as in the case of an arrestee in need of medical attention.  The Directive requires them to continue filming the arrestee.

The Attorney General’s Directive says that officers may deactivate their bodycams in two contexts:

1) If you are a civilian providing information/cooperation after an incident

- Particularly if the officer believes cooperation will not be forthcoming if the camera is on;

- Taking into account the civilian’s privacy and safety, and whether the encounter is in a home.

Officers cannot solicit a request to deactivate, but they can explain the consequences of deactivation (e.g. evidence relevant to a criminal investigation will not be recorded).

2) If you are seeking medical assistance (even on behalf of someone else), officers can choose to deactivate their bodycams, weighing your privacy and (if applicable) the privacy of the person in need of treatment.

However, police cannot deactivate their bodycams if the person who needs medical assistance is someone they are arresting – and who they should thus already have been recording.

If an officer chooses to deactivate a bodycam at a civilian’s request, s/he must record any discussion leading to the deactivation request, narrate the circumstances of the deactivation (i.e. ‘per the victim’s request’).  Officers should then report these circumstances to their supervisor “as soon as is practicable,” and document those circumstances in any report.

Likewise, if an officer chooses to decline a civilian’s deactivation request s/he must immediately inform the civilian, document the reasons for declining the request, and report these reasons to their superior as soon as it is safe and practicable.

Police cannot mislead you as to whether they are equipped with or are using a bodycam unless expressly authorized by the County Prosecutor or Director of the Division of Criminal Justice.


Who cannot be filmed?

Unless responding to an exigency or an officer’s request for assistance, police are generally not allowed to use bodycams near substance abuse treatment facilities where they might film substance abuse patients, youth facilities or schools where they might film minors, and places of worship where they might film worshippers.

Officers are also not generally allowed to film confidential informants or undercover officers.  However, exigencies requiring the activation of bodycams, as well as use of force and prosecutorial instruction may anyway allow recording under some circumstances.

Police cannot record someone based on race, which would violate racial profiling laws.


Does an officer have to inform me that they are filming?  Do they have to provide notice to the public?

Officers must answer truthfully if you ask: a) if they have a bodycam, and b) if it is on.  Officers are not allowed to mislead cooperating civilians, civilians providing information, or people seeking medical assistance about whether they have or are using a bodycam unless the County Prosecutor or the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice expressly authorize covert recording.

This means officers cannot tell arrestees seeking medical assistance that they are not being filmed, because officers cannot stop filming arrestees – without the express authorization of the County Prosecutor. Because bodycams are not yet common, agencies must also provide general notice that they are using them – either on their website, or if they do not have a website on the municipality’s website where feasible.  The website should include a picture showing what bodycams look like when worn by uniformed or plainclothes officers.

Officers must sometimes notify people without being asked, like when speaking with someone an officer believes to be the victim of a crime, or when speaking with someone inside a residence.  If the officer chooses not to notify under those circumstances, s/he must provide the reasons why.  Agencies may also promulgate their own policies.

Anything recorded may still be admissible in court even if you are not given notice that an officer is filming.


Where are police prohibited from recording?

The Attorney General’s Directive effectively prohibits police from recording in courtrooms, schools or youth facilities, healthcare facilities or medical offices, places of worship, or courtrooms except under certain circumstances.

Though no case law currently exists in New Jersey, it is likely courts will treat previous decisions that balance privacy and investigatory purposes as instructive.  We know from earlier cases that filming has been allowed for:

  • “Brief, non-intrusive encounters with individuals on the street or in parked cars” don’t implicate the same privacy concerns as even moving vehicle checks.  State v. Harris, 384 N.J. Super. 29 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2006).
  • Police video monitoring when the informant, a participant in the conversations, consented.  U.S. v. Lee, 359 F.3d 194 (3rd Cir. 2004).


Can police record on my property?  Can I ask them to turn their bodycams off?

Yes, the Attorney General’s Directive allows police to film on private property, but they must notify you they are recording.  In many cases, an officer lacks the discretion to deactivate his or her bodycam. 

But if their local department allows it, an officer may deactivate their bodycam for a civilian providing information, cooperating, or seeking medical attention.  One consideration police may take into account when making such a decision is whether the recording is in a home, and another is privacy.  Privacy is also heightened in the home, which may make it more likely that officers will deactivate bodycams.  But they are not required to do so.


How long is footage retained?

All footage must be retained for at least 90 days. County Prosecutors may impose additional requirements, but footage must at a minimum be retained for that period.  Additionally, footage pertaining to criminal investigations (or containing information that might be subject to discovery) should be retained for the normal period  that evidence is retained in criminal investigations.

Footage recording the use of police force or an arrest not resulting in ongoing prosecution should be retained until the expiration of the statute of limitations for filing a civil complaint against the officer.  Footage recording an incident subject to an internal affairs complaint should be retained pending final resolution of the investigation and any administrative action.


What access does the public have to bodycam recordings?

Bodycam footage can be disclosed in response to subpoenas, court orders, or requests under the Open Public Records Act.  However, the Directive does not outline how the public can get access.[1]  Under a recent ruling it may be increasingly difficult for the public to get access to police videos.  Moreover, in response to any request, agencies must provide notice to the County Prosecutor or the Division of Criminal Justice – meaning direct responses to requests are unlikely.

When a bodycam recording concerns a criminal investigation, the Attorney General’s Directive states it cannot be released unless a) required by court rules [it is treated like other evidence]; b) required by court order; c) the local agency in consultation with the County Prosecutor or Division of Criminal Justice determines that the need for access (by a person or the public) outweighs law enforcement’s interest in maintaining confidentiality.  Accessing recordings of use of force incidents, or investigations in response, requires the express prior approval of the assistant prosecutor or assistant or deputy attorney general.

However, it may be possible to compel disclosure under the Open Public Records Act ("OPRA") or the common law right of access.

By contrast, police and civilian employees of law enforcement agencies do have access to recordings.  This access is restricted to work, training, and auditing purposes – except where otherwise designated by a County Prosecutor or the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice.


Can I have footage of myself deleted?

While the Attorney General’s Directive mandates retention of footage for at least 90 days, it does not expressly provide for the destruction of footage.  And while the State offers guidelines for the retention and deletion of video footage by both county and municipal police departments,[2] specific guidelines for bodycams have not yet been promulgated.

Where sensitive matters may have been recorded, footage can be ‘tagged.’  Tagging may imply an obligation on behalf of the State to fight disclosure of the ‘tagged’ footage.  Local police departments may specify additional circumstances that should be tagged, but the Directive requires tagging when police bodycams capture:

1) the image of a child;

2) the image of a child victim of a crime;

3) footage made within residential premises, schools or youth facilities, healthcare facilities or medical offices, substance abuse or mental health treatment facilities, or places of worship;

4) a conversation with a person whose request to de-activate the BWC was declined;

5) footage of a special operations event, arrest, search warrant where confidential tactical information may have been recorded;

6) the image of an undercover officer or confidential informant; or

7) footage of a police computer screen displaying confidential personal or law enforcement sensitive information.


On what grounds can law enforcement deny a request for access?

The Attorney General’s Directive prevents agencies from responding either to an “Open Public Records Access” (“OPRA”) (see “OPRA”) or common law right of access (see “Right of Access”) request without first forwarding the request to the County Prosecutor or the Director of the Division of Criminal Justice.

At least one plaintiff has attempted to obtain bodycam footage on the theory that denial of access to the footage prevented him from bringing a civil suit and denied him access to the courts, but the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey rejected his argument.[3]

Requests can also be costly because footage must often be redacted.[4]  Though the District of Columbia launched a bodycam pilot program in October 2014, as of October 2015, it had not released a single video under the federal Freedom of Information Act, and there have been attempts to exempt all bodycam footage.[5] 


Can I request footage under the NJ Open Public Records Act (OPRA)?

New Jersey’s OPRA requires the release of government records.  But some things – like “criminal investigatory records” – are exempted from disclosure‘Criminal investigatory records’ are “record[s] created while a criminal investigation is going on” or “the work product of ... the people investigating.”[6]  They are records “not required by law to be made, maintained or kept on file,” and “pertain[] to any criminal investigation or related civil enforcement proceeding.”[7]  The State must “produce specific reliable evidence” that a record constitutes a criminal investigatory record.[8]

Thus, to avoid disclosure the State would have to show that a record is not required by law to be made, and that it pertained to a criminal investigation.  One court found police dashboard camera footage to be a ‘criminal investigatory record’ because such “recording[s] may pertain to a ‘criminal investigation,’ albeit it in its earliest stages.”[9]  Courts may treat bodycam footage similarly.

Bodycam footage can be released if the Attorney General’s directive “requires by law” that footage be produced.  Some administrative directives do not count as laws (e.g., when an agency issues a rule not explicitly required by law).[10] Some directives do have the force of law.[11]  Courts have gone both ways with respect to a directive by an Attorney general, finding that it did  count as law, and that it did not.  It is more likely than not that the bodycam directive will be treated like law, thereby coming within the ambit of OPRA, but it’s not certain.

Even if bodycam footage is covered by OPRA, a public agency can withhold a record from disclosure if it “pertain[s] to an investigation in progress by any public agency” and disclosure would be “inimical to the public interest.”[12]  However, an agency cannot withhold such a record if it was open to the public before the investigation began.[13]  Thus footage created at the time a crime is committed might be subject to disclosure if it predates the commencement of an investigation.

Since the Attorney General’s directive sets out requirements to film, limiting the discretion of officers to activate and deactivate their cameras, it is likely most bodycam footage will fall under the required by law exception – and be subject to OPRA disclosure.  Additionally, footage taken prior to the commencement of an investigation should also be subject to disclosure.

Records Available

  • Dashboard camera video can be required to be made and kept by directive of a chief of police, and so may not be a ‘criminal investigatory record’ exempt from disclosure.  Paff v. Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, 2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1899, 2014 WL 3886839 (N.J. Super. L. Div. July 31, 2014).
  • The Attorney General’s Directive on Use of Force Reports were found to satisfy the “required by law” exemption for criminal investigatory records and thus could be disclosed under OPRA.  O’Shea v. Township of West Millford, 410 N.J. Super 371 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2009).


Records Not Available

  • OPRA may cover video recordings created at the time of a shooting – prior to the commencement of any investigation.  But disclosure of police video footage may still be prohibited under Executive Order 69, restricting disclosure of certain police records.  North Jersey Media Group v. Borough of Paramus, 2012 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1685, 2012 WL 2865787 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2012).
  • In contrast to O’Shea, an Attorney General’s Directive was recently found to not satisfy the “required by law” exemption for criminal investigatory records for disclosure under OPRA.  North Jersey Media Group v. Township of Lyndhurst, 116 A.3d 570 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2015).  This opinion may have an “irreparable impact” on the ability of individuals to compel disclosure of bodycam footage under OPRA.  See Brennan v. O’Neil, 2015 WL 5769082 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law. Div. Sept. 21, 2015).


Requesting Footage Under the Common Law Right of Access

New Jersey also recognizes a common law right of access to records, which requires someone seeking records to prove 1) that the records are ‘public documents,’ 2) that they have an ‘interest’ in the records, and 3) that their right to access outweighs the State’s interest in preventing disclosure.[14]

Media groups that scrutinize government activity may have an established interest in police footage, and there is likely no dispute that police footage is a ‘public document.’[15]  Thus a common law right to access bodycam footage will likely hinge on balancing public agencies’ interests in confidentiality against an interest in disclosure.

Public interests the New Jersey Supreme Court has previously considered include:[16]

1) the extent to which disclosure will impede agency functions by discouraging citizens from providing information to the government;

2) the effect disclosure may have upon persons who have given such information, and whether they did so in reliance that their identities would not be disclosed;

3) the extent to which agency self-evaluation, program improvement, or other decisionmaking will be chilled by disclosure;

4) the degree to which the information sought includes factual data as opposed to evaluative reports of policymakers;

5) whether any findings of public misconduct have been insufficiently corrected by remedial measures instituted by the investigative agency; and

6) whether any agency disciplinary or investigatory proceedings have arisen that may circumscribe the individual's asserted need for the materials.

Under the common law right of access, it is probable that courts will uphold disclosure of bodycam footage after the conclusion of criminal investigations – so long as there is not an overwhelming interest against disclosure.

Records Not Available

Records Available

  • However, records can be released if a “requester’s and the public’s interest in access” outweighs "the substantial interests in conducting a thorough and effective investigation, untainted by premature release of investigative materials.”  North Jersey Media Group v. Township of Lyndhurst, 441 N.J. Super. 70 (N.J. 2015).


Privacy Concerns

In at least one New Hampshire case, a protective order was sought to block the release of police bodycam footage on privacy grounds.  The estate of a man killed by police claimed that the disclosure of the footage would irreparably harm his children.  Interestingly, the New Hampshire-ACLU has submitted an amicus brief in favor of disclosure.  The New Hampshire Supreme Court eventually ordered the videos’ release.

The ACLU argues in a whitepaper on police bodycams that despite its concerns over pervasive government surveillance, it supports the use of police bodycams because they “primarily serve the function of allowing public monitoring of the government instead of the other way around.”


The Current Situation: When must N.J. police use body cams?  When can they?  When can they not?

UO = Uniformed Officer, PC = Plainclothes Officer



Required – Police Must Record

Presumptive – Police May Deactivate

Cannot Activate

Deadly Force




Transporting Arestee




Officer Assist Request





X (UO)




X (UO)



Call near Dispatch

X (UO)



Witness Interview

X (UO)



Traffic Stop, Checkpoint

X (UO)




X (UO)



Custodial Interrogation

X (UO), unless recorded by station equip.



Force/Constr. Authority

X (UO)



Motorist Aid/ Caretaking Check

X (UO)



Civil Disorder

X (UO)



Discussions about Crim. Investigations, or Strategy or  Planning Sessions


X (unless civilian present or local PD prohibits recording)


Cooperating Civilian Requests




Seeking Med. Assistance


X (unless arrestee)


Private Home, Property




In Courtrooms



X (unless authorized to use force or by judge)

School, Youth Facility



X (if minors present)*

Substance Abuse Facilities



X (if patients present)*

Places of Worship



X (if worshipers present)*

Undercover Informant,  Agent



X (except if exigency or auth. of supervisor)

Near Certain Breathalyzers



X (for duration of test)


* Unless the officer is actively investigating a crime, responding to an emergency, or reasonably believes they will have to use force.’


Any law enforcement agency using bodycams had to issue policies conforming to the Attorney General’s directive by September 26, 2015.



County-by-County Landscape

Atlantic County:

- Atlantic City equipped its police with bodycams in the Summer of 2014.[17]

- Egg Harbor has six cameras that it has deployed on police since 2014.


Bergen County:

- Bergen County’s Bureau of Police Services, the sheriff’s department, intends to soon equip 47 officers with bodycams.

- Elmwood Park equipped every officer with bodycams in early 2015.


Burlington County:

- Willingboro Township issued bodycams to its police also in early 2015.

- Evesham Township unveiled bodycams for its police in July 2015.

- Riverton’s six officers wear bodycams it began acquiring in at least 2012.

Camden County:

- The Camden County Police Department has been acquiring bodycams, which it hopes to deploy by September 1, 2015.        


Cape May County:

- All Cape May County Sheriff’s 2nd shift officers have been wearing bodycams since 2014.

- Middle Township began a 30- to 45-day pilot program to test bodycams in January 2015.

- Lower Township launched a 30- to 45-day pilot program to equip officers with bodycams on a rotating basis beginning in January 2015.

- Wildwood City began a pilot program of bodycams for its officers in April 2015.


Essex County:

- The Essex County Sheriff’s Department purchased bodycams for forty officers in August 2015, which are pending deployment.

- Newark, along with Jersey City and Patterson, have been planning to pool funds to buy 2,000 cameras for the cities.


Gloucester County:

- Paulsboro’s 14 full-time officers began using bodycams in December 2014.[18]

- Glassboro’s patrol officers began using bodycams in April 2015.

- Rowan University issued bodycams to all its officers also in April.

- Greenwich Township rolled out bodycams at the end of July 2015.

- South Harrison is in the process of implementing bodycams.


Hudson County:

- Jersey City’s Council approved $1.2 million in funding on August 19, 2015, which authorizes the purchase of up to 1,200 cameras.


Hunterdon County:

- Clinton issued bodycams to its officers in early July 2015.

- Franklin Township has been using three cameras since 2014, and Flemington has equipped bicycle units and is transitioning some dashboard cameras to bodycams.  Frenchtown had bought cameras as of late July 2015.

Middlesex County:

- Cranbury Police Chief Rickey Varga said, in late July 2015, that he would likely support implementation of bodycams.

- The South Brunswick Chief of Police stated in late July 2015 that the department had applied for federal grants to obtain bodycams.


Monmouth County:

- Howell, Middletown, and Wall were selected by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office for a pilot program, but bodycams may not yet have been deployed.


Morris County:

- All of Morristown’s uniformed patrol officers began wearing bodycams on May 20, 2015.


Passaic County:

- Patterson, along with Jersey City and Newark, have been planning to pool funds to buy about 2,000 cameras for the cities.


Salem County:

- The Salem County Prosecutor local police chiefs have been planning to outfit all officers.


Sussex County:

- Sparta began a trial period for officers on one duty shift in June 2015.

In early 2015 Newton planned to equip all its officers with bodycams.


Union County:

- Rahway has stated it will equip all its police officers with bodycams by the end of 2015.

- Police in Elizabeth, Fanwood, Garwood, Linden, Mountainside, Plainfield, and Roselle Park will begin wearing bodycams before November 2015.


Warren County:

 - Mansifeld Township Police Chief has been considering using bodycams.



- Cumberland County

- Mercer County

- Ocean County

- Somerset County


Updated November 2015


[1]  The Seattle Police Department has adopted a cost-effective method of uploading released videos to YouTube. 

[2]  New Jersey Division of Archives & Records Management, Records Retention and Disposition Schedule, County Police Departments C540000-005 (2012), http://www.nj.gov/treasury/revenue/rms/pdf/C540000-005.pdf, and Municipal Police Departments C900000-006, http://www.nj.gov/treasury/revenue/rms/pdf/m900000.pdf.

[3]  Cooper v. Atlantic County Justice Facility, 2015 WL 1788951 (D. N.J. 2015).

[6]  See O’Shea v. Township of West Millford, 410 N.J. Super 371 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2009).

[7]  N.J. Stat. Ann. § 47:1A-1.1.

[8] Courier News v. Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office, 358 N.J. Super. 373 (N.J. Super Ct. App. Div. 2003).

[9] North Jersey Media Group v. Township of Lyndhurst, 116 A.3d 570 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2015)

[10]  In Re Solid Waste Util. Cust. Lists, 106 N.J. 508 (N.J. 1987); see also Nero v. Hyland, 76 N.J. 213 (N.J. 1978) (holding background check requested by the Governor did not produce a document required by law to be made).

[11]  Irval Realty Inc. v. Board of Public Utility Commissioners, 61 N.J. 366 (N.J. 1972).

[12]  N.J. Stat. Ann. § 47:1A-3.

[13]  Id.

[14]  Keddie v. Rutgers State University, 689 A.2d 702 (N.J. 1997).

[15]  North Jersey Media Group v. Township of Lyndhurst, 116 A.3d 570 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2015).

[16]  Loigman v. Kimmelman, 102 N.J. 98 (N.J. 1986).

[17]  As of late July 2015, Atlantic City may have been the only police department in Atlantic County employing bodycams.

[18]  Some observers have argued this may be responsible for the 90% drop in internal affairs complaints in early 2015.