NJ police agencies must identify officers who commit serious violations

New Jersey. Every state, county, and local law enforcement agency in New Jersey will be required to publish an annual list of officers who were fired, demoted, or suspended for more than five days due to a disciplinary violation. Furthermore, the names of all State Troopers who have committed major disciplinary violations over the past 20 years will be released by July 15.

15 Jun 2020 | 04:56

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal on Monday ordered all law enforcement agencies in the state to begin publicly identifying officers who commit serious disciplinary violations.

Under the order, every state, county, and local law enforcement agency in New Jersey will be required to annually publish a list of officers who were fired, demoted, or suspended for more than five days due to a disciplinary violation, with the first list to be published no later than Dec. 31.

Until now, the identities of officers subject to discipline have generally not been disclosed to the public unless they have faced criminal charges.

The directive also permits law enforcement agencies to go further and identify officers who have committed serious disciplinary violations in the past. For instance, Grewal, in conjunction with Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police (NJSP), announced that NJSP will publish a list of all State Troopers who have committed major disciplinary violations over the past 20 years. The historical list will be released publicly no later than July 15.

“For decades, New Jersey has not disclosed the identities of law enforcement officers who commit serious disciplinary violations,” said Grewal. “Today, we end the practice of protecting the few to the detriment of the many. Today, we recommit ourselves to building a culture of transparency and accountability in law enforcement.”

Callahan said the police cannot build trust with the public unless they’re candid about the shortcomings of the own officers. “By releasing the names of State Troopers who committed serious disciplinary violations, we are continuing the long, hard work of earning and maintaining the trust of the communities we serve,” he said.

The historical record

Since at least 2000, NJSP’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS) has published an annual report summarizing disciplinary matters involving State Troopers. Each report includes, among other things, a “synopsis of major discipline” that briefly summarizes each disciplinary action against a Trooper resulting in termination, demotion, or suspension of more than five days, but excludes the name of the Trooper.

Since 2000, NJSP has imposed major discipline in approximately 430 cases. This includes dozens of Troopers who received suspensions of more than 180 days, as well as a number of Troopers whose employment was terminated as a result of their misconduct.

The identities of these Troopers will be published no later than July 15. Prior to publication, each of the individuals whose names will be revealed will receive notice in writing.

Also on July 15, the other two law enforcement agencies in the Department of Law & Public Safety – the Division of Criminal Justice and the Juvenile Justice Commission – will publish similar lists both identifying any law enforcement officers who were suspended for serious disciplinary violations as far back as the agencies’ records go and providing a summary of that misconduct. Those officers will likewise receive notice prior to the release of their names.

“The vast majority of law enforcement officers in New Jersey serve with honor and astonishing courage under extremely difficult circumstances,” said Grewal. “Most go through their entire careers without engaging in conduct that warrants a major disciplinary action against them. But their good work is easily undermined — and quickly forgotten — whenever an officer breaches the public’s trust and dishonors the entire profession. The likelihood of such misbehavior increases when officers believe they can act with impunity, and it decreases when officers know that their misconduct will be subject to public scrutiny.

“These commonsense measures ensure that New Jersey remains at the forefront of policing reform in this country. And we’re not done yet. We will continue evaluating other steps to promote transparency, accountability, and trust in law enforcement. It’s just the right thing to do.”

Other recent reforms
In December 2019, Attorney General Grewal’launched the Excellence in Policing initiative. On June 2, 2020, Governor Murphy and Grewal announced a new phase of the initiative, which includes expanded Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training; support for statewide licensing of police officers; further development of the statewide Use of Force Portal; plans to update the statewide Use of Force Policy for the first time in two decades; and the creation of an Incident Response Team in the Division on Civil Rights.
On June 5, Grewal prohibited all New Jersey law enforcement officers from using “chokeholds, carotid artery neck restraints, or similar tactics on any individual, except in the very limited situations when deadly force is necessary to address an imminent threat to life.” The guidance further noted that “because these tactics create a substantial risk of death or serious bodily harm,” officers who cause a subject’s death or injury while performing them “face potential criminal liability.”
On June 12, Grewal provided additional details about plans to revise New Jersey’s Use of Force Policy, including plans to host community listening sessions in all 21 counties. In addition, OAG launched a website (nj.gov/oag/force) to collect the public’s comments about proposed revisions to the policy.
“These commonsense measures ensure that New Jersey remains at the forefront of policing reform in this country. And we’re not done yet. We will continue evaluating other steps to promote transparency, accountability, and trust in law enforcement. It’s just the right thing to do.” —New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal