NJ attorney general: Most cops are good but let’s expose the bad ones
TRENTON — The state's top law enforcement officer said most police officers "never commit a major disciplinary violation throughout their careers" but authorities have to be transparent about the problematic few.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Wednesday made the case before a state Senate panel for releasing identifying information about officers who have faced major disciplinary action in recent years.
The plan to name such officers for the first time ever by the end of the year has hit some road bumps, with at least five lawsuits filed by police unions.
Speaking during a marathon six-hour hearing of the Law and Public Safety Committee, Grewal said that a time when Americans are expressing distrust of the police, it’s important to embrace the scrutiny head-on.
“I believe I need to stand up for New Jersey’s law enforcement to show that here in New Jersey we have nothing to hide," he said.
Chairwoman Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, said a goal of the hearing was to find consensus on changes to policing.
“We need to build trust between police and communities of color,” she said. “Police cannot be seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to impose control over the community. Law enforcement agencies must do all they can to encourage diversity.”
Grewal told the panel that the Garden State is already a leader in the push for police reforms, but after the recent death of George Floyd and others, the state now has the opportunity to become a national model.
He argued that one way to improve accountability, transparency and trust is by moving forward with a directive he issued last month requiring police departments to make public the disciplinary records of officers who have been fired, demoted or suspended for more than five days during the past year.
He also said giving the public specific information about disciplinary records is important, but this should not be done until all investigations have been concluded.
Pat Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, countered that publicizing internal affairs cases is counter-productive because police departments have different standards and what might be considered a minor violation in some might be major in another.
“Our issues, specifically, are officers who did not violate the public trust,” he said. “If you want to expose an officer who violated the public trust for the last 50 years, I’ll support it ... but if you want to expose officers who were merely given major discipline for minor offenses — alcohol abuse, for example — you’re going to cause harm to those officers for the rest of their careers.”
During his testimony, Grewal also discussed how bias training for all prosecutors, detectives and state troopers is underway; a statewide conviction review unit has been established; and choke-holds have been banned except in limited circumstances.
Grewal also pointed out the state’s police training programs are being overhauled and the state is compiling a statewide database on use-of-force incidents.
He said the country is at a historical crossroads “and it offers us a unique opportunity to prevent further injustices, to strengthen police community relations and to improve public safety. “
Colligan said New Jersey has the best trained, most professional officers in the United States. During his testimony he supported expanding the Police Training Commission, which has been cut back for the past several years.
He also said the PBA supports efforts to license police officers and completely rejects the notion of defunding police in any way shape or form.
The hearing also included testimony from New Jersey NAACP president Richard Smith, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, former state Attorney General and Newark police monitor Peter Harvey and Wayne Blanchard, the president of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Organization.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com