PLEASANTVILLE — Police Officer Joe Gamble has been coming to work with a new addition to his uniform for almost a week now, but he said he hasn’t noticed a difference.
Gamble, who’s in his third year in the department’s Patrol Unit, described the square black body camera clipped to the middle of the front of his vest as a “useful tool” that will help officers do their job more efficiently.
“We can go back and see what we did during that process,” he said, using writing up a report after a traffic stop as an example. “We can visualize that whole scene again, instead of from memory.”
The city’s Police Department rolled out a body camera program Oct. 31 — a technology that’s becoming a norm in policing across the U.S. to keep a record of police interactions with citizens.
While it’s a move that Chief Sean Riggin and others in the command staff have pushed back against due to privacy concerns for residents; the officers in the department and city officials were successful championing the program, which, they argue, protects police and residents.
So far this year, overall crime in the city is lower than 2018, with not one murder, according to the State Police’s Uniform Crime Report. There have also been fewer rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries and larcenies.
Gamble said the camera hasn’t made a difference in the way he goes about his job, but also noted that he worked previously at the Middle Township Police Department in Cape May County, where body cameras were added to the department about 2015.
“I don’t see it changing anything,” he said. “A lot of the times, during situations, we’re videotaped with cell phone cameras anyway.”
About 40 officers in the department’s Patrol, Street Crimes and Community Policing units were outfitted with Axon Body 2 cameras as part of a five-year contract, Riggin said.
The contract comes with a price tag of about $40,000 per year, but the first year has been paid for through the city’s Police Foundation and the department’s seizure fund.
City Councilman William Christmas Sr., the chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, has been advocating for the program for about a year, he said.
“I realized that many times, on both sides, the policing side and citizen side, there was always a complaint that either the police did something or the police are saying that the citizenry did something,” Christmas said. “And after realizing that some police departments were wearing body cameras and the advent that body cameras tell the story — and it’s the evidence of what happened.”
Mayor Jesse Tweedle Sr. called Christmas a “bulldog” when it came to advocating for the program, saying it’s another step in transparency and protection.
“Anything we can do to protect the citizens and protect our police officers, we’re on board with it,” Tweedle said. “It’s just another aid and tool that we’ll have to use in the proper manner. It’s a win-win situation.”
Riggin explained his hesitance to roll out a body camera program, saying he was mainly concerned with residents’ privacy.
“Under the law right now, I think these videos are too available for voyeurs, and I think that it’s too easy for somebody to view one of our residents on their very worst day for their own amusement,” Riggin said. “We go into your house on your very worst day, at your very worst moment, and there are people that watch that like it’s a TV show.”
However, there’s become an expectation that officers should have cameras, he said, an expectation that the department is happy to meet.
“While it is true there is a significant equipment cost and fair amount of additional support to make the program work, the end product is worth the cost,” he said. “When viewed as a cost-benefit analysis, the cost is significantly outweighed by the value of positive communication with our community and improved evidence recovery for criminal cases.”