How NJ lawmakers are trying to change the way cops do their job
In the two weeks since George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, more than 300 protests have taken place in New Jersey, including 13 on Wednesday.
In response to the Floyd death and protests, Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, D-Hudson, is proposing legislation that would require an updated use-of-force model that every law enforcement agency in the state would be required to follow.
A companion measure would require a civilian complaint review board be established in every municipality in New Jersey, something that police unions have long opposed whenever it is proposed on a municipal level. The state Supreme Court is hearing the police union's challenge of Newark's board.
The legislation would also create a centralized reporting portal.
“It’s time that we have a centralized place so that we can look at the trends, we can see who’s doing what, and we can create actions against police officers that abuse their use of power,” said McKnight
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal last week announced that his office would be updating guidelines on use of force, which have been unchanged in 20 years.
McKnight said this is an important step because data collected from 2012 to 2016 in New Jersey shows “black men are three times more likely to have force used against them than a white man."
McKnight said citizen review boards would provide transparency and accountability as well as help law enforcement interact with the community in a way that will help to establish better understanding and partnerships.
McKnight said most police officers do a great job but her legislation will help to identify those who do not follow the rules.
“We need to have a police force. They serve and protect. But unfortunately, there are some bad apples within the police force," she said. “Having more accountability and transparency will definitely hold police officers to a higher standard.”
State Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer, has introduced a bill that would classify the use of chokeholds by law enforcement officers as deadly force.
“The death of George Floyd at the hands of the police is something we have seen far too many times before. Mr. Floyd was not a violent criminal and had not threatened the safety of the officers arresting him. He should be alive today," Turner said.
Her legislation defines deadly force as “knowingly putting pressure on the throat, windpipe or carotid artery, and hindering or preventing the ability to breathe or interfering with the flow of blood from the heart to the brain.”
Under current law, the use of deadly force by police is only justifiable if it is necessary to protect themselves or someone else from death or serious injury, to arrest or prevent the escape of a violent criminal or to prevent a violent crime.
Last week, the Attorney General's Office notified county prosecutors that the use of chokeholds and neck restraints could only be used when officers believe that they are in serious danger and the use of deadly force is necessary.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com