By Year's End, a Camera in Each Police Car

by Leslie Koren, Bergen Record

By the end of this year, every marked police car in Bergen County will have a video camera, under a $2 million plan to be announced today by Prosecutor William H. Schmidt.

Schmidt's office already has spent $850,000 to install cameras in 251 police cars. Another $1.15 million will be spent to help equip the rest of the 553 marked cars in the county.

Schmidt said the cameras "protect people's rights" as well as the rights of officers.

Several police chiefs in Bergen County welcomed the news.

"I would have loved cameras when I was on the street," said Haworth Chief Patrick J. O'Dea. "It eliminates that whole 'He said, he said' thing. Throws it out the window.

"As long as you are doing the right thing, you should never be fearful about cameras. They're always on your side," O'Dea added.

Elmwood Park police installed a camera in one patrol car about two years ago.

The department wanted more but could not afford it, said Chief Don Ingrasselino. This week, however, Elmwood Park police began bringing vehicles to Hackensack to have the cameras installed at the county's expense.

"If anything, it makes you more professional instead of less," Ingrasselino said "It's part of the profession. It's where it's going."

The New Jersey State Police began installing cameras in December 1998, several months after two white troopers fired shots at a van occupied by four minority men, wounding three of them. The incident sparked an uproar against racial profiling, the illegal practice of singling out minority motorists for traffic stops.

Since then, videotapes not only have disproved dozens of allegations of mistreatment against troopers but also led to charges against several motorists for fabricating complaints.

"We saw the wisdom when the state police installed them," Schmidt said. "They have protected the rights of citizens from those police officers that may have been marginal."

The cameras will be paid for with money seized from illegal operations - drug busts, insurance fraud, money laundering, and gambling operations, Schmidt said. Installation of the remaining cameras is to be completed over the next eight months.

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