For New Jersey Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, putting video cameras in new police cars became personal two years ago when he was arrested for drunken driving and video from a camera mounted on a cruiser helped get the charges dropped and his name cleared.
Since May, both chambers of the New Jersey Legislature have overwhelmingly adopted his bill to require the cameras in newly acquired police vehicles.
If Republican Gov. Chris Christie doesn’t veto the measure by Aug. 11, it becomes law.
The Legislature adopted the same measure in January, but Christie didn’t act on it by the end of the session legislative session, causing that bill to die. The Republican governor didn’t explain the pocket veto then, and his office didn’t respond to a recent request for an explanation.
Moriarty, a Democrat from Gloucester County’s Washington Township, has been on a campaign to get Christie’s attention and signature on the bill.
On July 31, 2012, Washington Township Officer Joseph DiBuonaventura pulled over Moriarty and accused him of drunken driving.
Moriarty, a former Washington Township mayor who said he hadn’t consumed alcohol, refused a blood-alcohol test. He said he was afraid an officer who had pulled him over when he was following all the rules of the road could manipulate the results.
Moriarty, a former television consumer affairs reporter, obtained video from the squad car, and it showed that he was not driving erratically.
He had gotten lucky — that squad car was among nine in the department’s fleet with a video camera; the other 41 didn’t have them.
Eventually, all charges against Moriarty were dropped. The officer is now awaiting trial on 14 charges, including falsifying a police report and official misconduct, and has pleaded not guilty.
Moriarty credits the camera with saving his reputation and career and catching wrongdoing.
But he said the cameras could protect police, too.
“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,” he said.
The cameras can cost up to $8,000. Under the bill, departments could instead have officers wear $300 to $400 body cameras.
The bill also calls for fines against people convicted of drunken driving to be increased by $25, with the additional funds going toward the purchase of cameras. The Office of Legislative Services estimates that would raise about $577,000 annually, enough to equip about 90 squad cars with the cameras.