NAACP says expand NJ police reforms to body cams, residency rules
A day after the state unveiled additional police reforms, including crisis intervention teams and a promise for a new use-of-force policy by year’s end, the head of the state chapter of the NAACP endorsed the plan.
Richard Smith, president of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP, said in a virtual town hall meeting hosted by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal that he supports Grewal’s expanded police reforms. He called the licensing of police officers “a huge step in the right direction.”
“We have to ensure that bad actors – that’s the terminology that it seems like folks want to use – bad actors in law enforcement cannot lose their job in one place and go get a lot in another place and continue the same behavior,” Smith said.
Smith said there are other changes the state could be making but hasn’t.
“We are also demanding that all police officers in the state of New Jersey, every last one, that it be mandatory that they wear a body cam,” Smith said.
The New Jersey State Police and some, but not all, local police departments in New Jersey use body cameras.
Smith also suggested that the state enact a residency requirement for police, though he acknowledged that wouldn’t be popular. The Legislature passed a five-year residency requirement in 2015 but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Chris Christie.
“You go and live in Princeton or you go and live in Cherry Hill, then you want to come into my community and be judgmental,” Smith said. “Maybe if you lived in the community that you serve, you’d have more buy-in.”
Under New Jersey’s civil service system, most municipalities have a residency preference for hiring police officers. Civil service rules also say new police and fire recruits must live in the municipality where they work during their first year, a probationary period.
Grewal said New Jersey hasn’t seen protests get violent to the degree they have in other places in the wake of George Floyd being killed by a Minnesota police officer because departments in the state have focused for years on community policing.
“We’re all rowing in the same direction. Some might be rowing a little bit slower than others, but we’re all focused on getting to the right place,” Grewal said.
Floyd’s and the ensuing coast-to-coast protests have kept the spotlight on police use of force for over a week now.
Grewal said the public is generally unaware the state now uses an independent prosecutor to handle cases in which someone is killed by a police officer. He said videos in such cases are made public, since 2018, though sometimes not quickly as investigations are carefully done.
“We understand that’s a tough balance because sometimes delays feed into mistrust that might already exist,” Grewal said.
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said getting the videos out sooner is great so people can judge things for themselves but that the process must be fair for the accused, the victim and the public.
“It can incite anger, or it can quell anger. And that’s why it’s important that it get out faster,” Webb-McRae said.
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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.