Unions say naming NJ disciplined cops will embarrass, endanger
The unions representing troopers and officials with the State Police are opposing the state attorney general's plan to publicly release the names of all troopers who have faced discipline greater than five days' suspension in the past 20 years.
The unions say that releasing the names will serve "no legitimate purpose other than to harass, embarrass, and rehash past incidents during a time of severe anti-law enforcement sentiment" and that doing so will instigate violence.
Last week, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said that all law enforcement agencies would have to begin publishing by no later than the end of the year the names of officers who are fired, demoted or suspended for more than five days for serious disciplinary infractions. Grewal also said the State Police would release 20 years' worth of such information.
Until now, the names of disciplined officers have been kept confidential except in rare cases in which officers appeal to the Civil Service Commission or Superior Court or when an officer is charged with a crime. Law enforcement agencies have only been required to provide the public with summaries of infractions that led to a suspension of more than five days. But without the identities of the officers, the public has no way of knowing how often any particular officer has been punished.
Law enforcement agencies also publish tallies of complaints filed by the public or superior officers without identifying the accused officers or providing any details of the complaints.
Law enforcement agencies have also kept from the public instances in which officers were accused of motor vehicle offenses such as drunk driving.
Grewal's decision to identify reprimanded or fired officers follows a series of other policy changes in recent weeks, including naming officers involved in shootings, which until now had been kept confidential.
The changes come amid a national reckoning with racism and police misconduct sparked by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd last month. The white officer who knelt on Floyd's neck has been charged with second-degree murder while three other cops were charged as accomplices. Police officers across the country are rarely charged with crimes as a result of use of deadly force.
The statement released this week by the State Troopers Fraternal Association, the State Troopers NCO Association of New Jersey and the State Troopers Superior Officers Association, says "Floyd's murder was indefensible, unjustified, and we unequivocally condemn it."
The unions also said that they "have never been, and never will be, in the business of protecting 'bad apples' or covering for 'rogue cops'" and that they support several legislative proposals, including a bill that would require police departments to share internal affairs and personnel files as way to keep agencies from "passing the trash;" a bill that would categorize false police reports as a type of hate crime; and one that would categorize choke holds as a form of deadly force.
But naming and shaming officers for past misconduct "can’t possibly be a deterrent because the violations have already occurred and the suspensions have already been served," the unions say in their statement.
"It makes no sense to unmask and re-punish Troopers for administrative violations committed years ago," they add. "Furthermore, a significant portion of names would include former Troopers who have been granted honorable retirements and are no longer involved in law enforcement."
The unions' statement also includes a misleading argument about criminal records, claiming that "a Trooper with an administrative rule violation many years ago would have their name posted online in perpetuity while an armed robbery ex-convict has their name permanently removed."
In fact, while the Department of Corrections does remove the information of released convicts from its online database, the conviction and arrest records of ex-cons continue to be available for background checks and in numerous places online, including the state judiciary's online database, on police blotters posted on police department's websites and Facebook pages and on the websites of news publications.
The unions' statement also asks the attorney general "to protect Troopers and their families from becoming potential targets of violent antipolice activists in their homes, communities, and schools."
Demonstrations in New Jersey have been overwhelmingly free of violence, though authorities have charged two people they say set a Trenton police vehicle on fire during recent protests.
Last week, Pat Colligan, the president of the New Jersey State Policemen's Benevolent Association, the largest police union in the state, cautioned that disciplinary violations don't always mean excess use of force but will include all sorts of workplace infractions.
On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy said the release of information would provide transparency that will "help generate faith in our communities in which our officers serve."
State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan on Monday also said many officers who had been disciplined "bounced back" and now "serve as phenomenal examples."
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.