Next week, Burlington Township Police Department officers will add a tool to their arsenals: body-worn cameras.
On Monday, five members of the local force will come to work with baseball-size cameras affixed to their blue uniform shirts. The more than three dozen remaining officers in the department will begin using the cameras by September, after completing individual training.
A combination of capital funds and grants amounting to $68,500, including $22,000 from the state Attorney General's Body Worn Camera Assistance Fund, has bought the department 50 cameras for its 43 officers.
The cameras will link directly with the cameras already in the department's patrol vehicles, and certain triggers in each car - a siren being turned on, for example - will automatically turn on the cameras worn by officers inside the vehicle.
Officers also can turn the cameras on manually.
Uniformed officers wearing the cameras will be required to record all interactions with the public.
At the police department Wednesday afternoon, officers tried out the cameras for the first time and gave a brief demonstration to reporters and town officials.
The biggest plus, Public Safety Director Bruce Painter said, is being able to offer the transparency the public demands.
"Now we have an unbiased eyewitness to an event," Painter said. "It's a tool to say, 'I did the right thing.' "
The cameras will be useful for training purposes, as well as for any internal investigations of officers, Painter said.
Body cameras have proliferated among police departments across the nation in recent years, as cellphone videos by bystanders documenting sometimes fatal use of force by police continue to surface.
New Jersey law does not require officers to wear body cameras, although a July 2015 directive from the state Attorney General's Office outlines how departments that do have the cameras must deploy them.
Of about 500 police agencies in the state, 208 have or are in the process of obtaining body cameras. New Jersey announced last summer it would outfit all 1,000 state troopers with the devices.
Painter said body cameras "should be the norm," adding that his department was fortunate to secure sufficient funding.
Many of the more than 200 agencies that use or will use body cameras have purchased the equipment with help from the Body-Worn Camera Assistance Fund. The fund allocated $2.5 million to 176 departments across the state.
Still, funding for police cameras has been contentious in New Jersey in recent months.
A 2014 law requiring police departments to equip newly purchased patrol vehicles with dashboard cameras was ruled unconstitutional this April because it did not provide an adequate funding source for the required cameras.
Six states have enacted laws that require at least some officers to wear body cameras, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.