The passionate arguments for, against naming cops in deadly shootings
Last week, a state Senate committee released a measure that would require officials to release the names of any police officers involved in fatal shootings or the in-custody deaths of suspects within 48 hours of an incident.
But the New Jersey state Policemen’s Benevolent Association and the state Fraternal Order of Police strongly objected to the amendment, which was added onto a bill that also calls for a unit within the state Attorney General’s Office to take over all fatal police shooting investigations, instead of having the local County Prosecutor’s Office conduct the investigations as they do now.
After police groups voiced concerns about the amendment, they’ve been told it will be taken out of the bill.
“I hope there will be changes to the bill on Thursday that will get rid of that amendment, I’ve heard that’s what’s going to happen,” said Pat Colligan, the president of the PBA.
He said “they took a second look at it and agreed to make the changes on the floor of the Senate on Thursday. I think it may have been rushed through without everyone realizing what the amendment was, so I think now maybe better heads have prevailed.”
Colligan said immediately releasing the names of police officers involved in these types of incidents could put them and members of their families in danger.
“I mean in the age of the Internet, you can find anybody’s address,” he said.
James Stewart, the vice president of the state Fraternal Order of Police, was very happy to hear lawmakers will change the bill and strike the amendment.
“We have a difficult situation obviously in America today with police and community relations. Everyone knows what happened in Dallas and what happened in Baton Rouge, and we don’t want to put our officers in that situation again,” he said.
Stewart agreed it would be potentially dangerous to make public the names of police officers involved in a case of fatal force immediately available to the public.
“Now you’re putting his family in jeopardy when you have somebody that might be not happy with the police and the use of force,” he said.
He also stressed there may be a situation where a community is outraged about a shooting, “but it doesn’t mean necessarily that the police officer did anything wrong. The vast majority of times the use of force is found to be justified.”
But Judy Valdez of Bayville, the mother of Michael Gaffney — who was shot and killed by an off-duty cop outside a bar in Union four months ago an an incident that remains under investigation — believes the names of police involved in a fatal shooting should be released right away.
Authorities still haven't released the name of the officer involved in that shooting.
“My son was murdered on May 13. His name and information was blasted all over the news, but the cop’s was held confidential. He’s still living a normal life,” she said.
No announcement has yet been made as to whether the officer will be charged.
Valdez is pushing for legislation that would not allow off-duty law enforcement to consume alcohol in a bar or restaurant if carrying a weapon. New Jersey has no restriction on handling or carrying a gun, for those authorized to do so, when drinking alcohol.
Colligan said there’s a general mistrust of police right now “and when a few seconds of a shooting is posted, which is all the public is going to see, they’re never going to watch the whole video. They draw their conclusions, which are oftentimes false, and they’re going to be taking out their frustrations and looking for the officer. It’s putting us in an incredibly dangerous situation and quite frankly there’s going to be a point where nobody is going to want to do this job anymore.”
Stewart said while he’s glad the proposed amendment will be taken out of the bill, he still considers the measure to be misguided.
“It’s a slap in the face to law enforcement. We’re saying that, well, law enforcement can’t be trusted, That’s the perception that we should be working against, not enhancing,” he said. “It just feeds into the false narrative that the police are out there as this band of marauding thugs doing whatever they want in the street and it’s simply not the case.”
The sponsors of the legislation, state Senate President Steve Sweeney, Sen. Loretta Weinberg and Sen. Ron Rice, were all called individually for comment, but none have yet responded.
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