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New Jersey civil liberties group combats police misconduct

Most New Jersey residents willingly cooperate with police in a traffic stop or other routine encounter. However, as in any tense situation, things can change quickly. Police wield significant power over us and have a lot of authority in New Jersey to protect public safety. This does not give police the right to infringe upon one’s rights in the criminal justice system or to act using excessive force during an encounter.

A police encounter that spins out of control can result in significant personal injuries or even a wrongful death in some cases. This issue has become more high profile over the past few years as cellphone video recordings of police encounters have become viral videos and civil rights violations have become apparent.

In 2010, a New Jersey teen was arrested after police noticed that she was recording them while on a public bus. She was held for three hours before being released to her mother. The case incited outrage not only because of the civil rights violation, but also because of the potential for a hostile situation to erupt when police try to prevent citizens from lawfully recording them.

Most police officers act within the bounds of the law and respect a suspect’s rights. But for the few that don’t, the New Jersey branch of the American Civil Liberties Union has released a new cellphone application to help citizens protect their rights. The application is called Police Tape and it provides information on your rights during a police encounter and also allows users to create and audio or video recording of a police encounter. It automatically uploads to an ACLU database where the content will be reviewed for violations.

The ACLU says that they created the application because while recordings have helped increase accountability, there have also been some well-known instances of police deleting lawfully recorded footage from cellphones.

New Jersey residents who are injured during a police encounter may have a right to recover from the police department or the city for violations of civil rights or for the personal injuries sustained in the encounter.

Source: New Jersey Star-Ledger, “N.J. ACLU unveils ‘stealth’ app allowing citizens to secretly record police,” Eunice Lee, July 3, 2012.

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