NJ puts tighter limits on use of no-knock warrants by police
TRENTON – Three statewide law-enforcement policies were announced Tuesday by acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck, including tighter limits on the use of no-knock warrants and clear rules and limitations on the right to record police activity.
The third policy provides guidance to law enforcement agencies on diversity in recruiting and hiring, including officer demographic data collection requirements.
“New Jersey is a national leader on policing issues, and the three policies we are issuing today reaffirm our commitment to excellence,” Bruck said. “But what makes the Garden State special is that we develop policing policies collaboratively, by engaging law enforcement and community members alike, as we work to promote public trust and protect public safety.”
The state pointed to statements of support from 11 groups, such as social justice advocacy groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey and law enforcement organizations including the State Troopers Fraternal Association, State Association of Chiefs of Police and groups representing Black, Muslim and women police officers and executives.
Absent from the list were the two largest police unions, the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association and New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police.
“As our country continues to evolve, New Jersey remains at the forefront of transparent policing by implementing policies that help reinforce the trust between law enforcement and our residents,” said Col. Patrick Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.
The directive regulating no-knock warrants generally prohibits them, except for times when knocking and announcing will create a reasonable and particularized concern for officer safety or the safety of another person and it’s executed by a trained tactical team.
A county prosecutor or the director of the state Division of Criminal Justice or their senior legal staff designee must approve any requests to the court for a no-knock warrant. Prosecutors must later review the warrant execution, including body-worn camera footage, and they must collect data about them.
The directive also says that for safety purposes, search warrants in general should be executed between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., not in the middle of the night, unless approved by a court. And it says “flash bang” explosive devices should be used sparingly and only with state or county prosecutor approval.
The directive regarding the right to observe, object to and record police activity in the era of the smartphone will be the subject of an online town-hall meeting at 2 p.m. Friday.
“In order to continue building better relationships between communities and police, this directive is necessary to ensure that the First Amendment's bounds are as clear as possible – to both civilians and law enforcement alike,” Bruck wrote in the directive.
Bystanders have the right to witness, observe, audio and video record, photograph, comment on or complain about law enforcement officers conducting official duties in public, as long as the bystander has a legal right to be present where they are.
Officers can’t tell a bystander that recording isn’t allowed or demand identification, and they can’t intentionally obstruct a recording device. However, bystanders can’t cross a police line simply because they have a recording device, and state law continues to prohibit conduct whereby a person purposely obstructs a government function. Bystanders might have less access than credentialed media.
The directive also describes the narrow circumstances under which a recording device could be seized from a member of the public or the press.
The diversity guidelines are required by a 2020 state law. They include a process for identifying underrepresented groups on a policy form and procedures for collecting and reporting demographic data about recruiting, hiring and promoting officers, with the first reports due Jan. 31.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.