LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

New Jersey moves closer to licensing police officers

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Body camera footage from June 4 shows now-suspended Woodlynne Police officer Ryan Dubiel using pepper spray. A few days later, the Camden County prosecutor charged Dubiel with assault for the unprovoked pepper-spraying of two teens when officers responded to a loitering call.

Woodlynne is Dubiel’s ninth police department job in several years. In that time, he’s accumulated 16 use-of-force complaints. He’s been fired, but hired what seems like right away by another department.

Last month, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a tweet:

Grewal chairs the New Jersey Police Training Commission, which includes executives of police unions. Last week, the commission voted unanimously to create a state licensing program for New Jersey’s 36,000 police officers.

“Law enforcement officers in New Jersey get certified and then that’s it. There’s no license that they have to renew, or standards that they have to abide by, or mechanisms to pull that license if they commit a felony, for example. And so it’s that accountability, that method to make sure that if somebody violates the norms of their profession, and that’s what the PTC will work out, what those licensing requirements will be,” Grewal said in a June 3 interview.

Sayreville Police Chief John Zebrowski is the first executive vice president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police.

“I think it’s long overdue. This is something that has been in discussion for many years. And a lot of the events that have happened recently have put it at the forefront. But we’ve been discussing this over a period of time, particularly at the beginning of the year we started with committee hearings,” Zebrowski said.

New Jersey is one of five states that does not license police officers. Zebrowski says there’s a movement underway to create a licensing program to help chiefs make hiring decisions.

“What I’d like to see, or I think what we’re hoping to see, is to be able to put all the processes or all the components that are in place right now, put them in to one depository, the PTC, so that any information related to training to recruitment to discipline is all in one location so that it can be easily accessed. Whether it’s from the public or necessary notification, or more importantly from each entire agency. Whether it’s an officer that’s moving from one agency or not, the agency that’s requesting the information will have easy access to those records,” he said.

In December, the attorney general made it easier for police departments to share internal records to prevent disciplined officers from moving between departments. Zebrowski says it helps, but licensing would make the process smoother and more complete.