Are your cops biased or corrupt? NJ to expand public reports on discipline
TRENTON – Police departments in New Jersey will have to disclose more information about serious misconduct by their officers starting in 2023, under a directive issued Tuesday by state Attorney General Matthew Platkin.
A directive issued in 2020 already required law enforcement agencies to make yearly reports that summarized any major discipline imposed, such as firing, demoting or suspending officers for more than five days.
The update adds more topics to the report and requires them to be included regardless of whatever disciplinary actions followed.
Those topics are:
— Discrimination or bias
— Excessive force
— Untruthfulness or lack of candor
— Filing a false report or submitting a false certification in any criminal, administrative, employment, financial or insurance matter in their professional or personal life
— Intentionally conducting an improper search, seizure or arrest
— Intentionally mishandling or destroying evidence
— Domestic violence
Police departments are required to report the information to the state and publish it on their public website each year by Jan. 31. It includes a brief synopsis of the misconduct and the name of the officer involved.
“Transparency is fundamental to ensuring confidence in the work of law enforcement,” Platkin said. “These disclosures of police internal affairs information are an unprecedented step in promoting that transparency and a continuation of our efforts with respect to greater accountability and professionalism. The relationships between law enforcement and community members will be better served by making this information publicly available.”
The policy comes in response to a March decision by the state Supreme Court finding that a range of internal affairs reports may be publicly accessible under the common law right of access upon request.
It says that if a member of the public or press requests such reports, agencies will disclose a summary and conclusions report that sets forth a summary of the allegations, a summary of the factual findings and the final discipline that was imposed.
Thomas Eicher, executive director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, said the directive serves important interests “including improving transparency and avoiding burdens on law enforcement agencies receiving public records requests.”
Will the public really know what's going on?
The directive requires two reports to be created – one for internal use and one for responding to records requests. Advocates for police reforms say that will lead to sanitized reports that suppress important details.
“Real transparency gives us access to actual documents, not summary docs that are created solely for transparency disclosures,” attorney CJ Griffin said on Twitter. “C’mon @NewJerseyOAG, you can and should do better than this! Use that power you’re given to open up all IA!”
In September, the state made public a new dashboard of internal affairs statistics searchable by law enforcement agency, the alleged infractions involved and the disciplinary action taken.