Who watches the Watchmen? An age-old question, first posed by Roman poet and satirist Juvenal and, more recently, by Alan Moore in his Watchmen comic series, seemingly has an answer, at least with respect to police headquarters in Edison, New Jersey.
The Star-Ledger reports that surveillance cameras in the police station—to include areas where attorneys and their clients were supposed to have legally protected discussions—did not disable their audio functionality despite assurances from the police chief that they had. Almost a year ago, the new surveillance system was installed and since then has recorded conversations between peace officers, citizens, and attorneys and their clients.
A lawyer for the union that represents sergeants, lieutenants, and captains, James Mets, told The Star-Ledger that officers learned of the recordings over the weekend when reviewing the security footage. He suggested that the recordings were a “possible violation of state and federal wiretapping laws,” since in New Jersey all parties must be aware that they are being recorded. Mets detailed his concerns in a letter to the US Attorney’s office, the state Attorney General, and the Middlesex County Prosecutor. These offices have yet to comment on the accusations.
Police Chief Thomas Bryan said he was unaware of the problem until recently and called the audio surveillance unauthorized. In a statement he said that once the problem was discovered they “took immediate corrective action to disable the audio microphones throughout the police department.” He also said that the vendor who installed the cameras “has taken full responsibility for the error.”
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Still, even if the audio recordings were accidental, that does not mean that New Jersey law wasn’t broken. The police officers themselves are also outraged about the development according to statements from Mets and David DeFillippo who represents the Policemen’s Benevolent Association in Edison.