LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

NJ attorney general mandates outreach to understand probe of police shootings

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

It’s been a few years since detectives for Gloucester County’s prosecutor had to investigate a fatal police-involved shooting. That is not the case for officers in neighboring Cumberland County.

The new state attorney general is mandating what’s happening here. Gloucester County inviting local police and the public to training sessions to show them how police must follow the state attorney general’s guidelines to investigate such shootings.

“It’s important that people understand what the process is. And the only way people can understand the process is through number one, transparency, and number two, through outreach and education,” said Gloucester County Prosecutor Charles Fiore.

So Fiore’s detectives went through the attorney general’s directive. Among them, reporting whether anyone on the investigative team knows anyone involved in the shooting.

“I know this is an issue with the community. I know I mentioned earlier. They’re always concerned that we know each other and take care of each other. But, according to the directive, we check that immediately and if there is a conflict, we notify the attorney general’s office. So that wouldn’t be an issue.” said Gloucester County Detective Stacie Lick.

“These cases are very sensitive. They’re very complicated. In major crimes, the form I’m accustomed to for 12 years, homicide investigations always take weeks, if not months or longer, and these cases, even if it doesn’t turn into a homicide, are no different.” said Detective Bryn Wilden.

The detectives say the evidence collection is painstaking and demands thoroughness and multiple reviews, including at least one by the state attorney general’s office. The attorney general’s directive includes presuming a prosecutor will present the case to a grand jury.

“The county prosecutor may also present to the grand jury, even it even if you have what I just mentioned: undisputed facts supporting the justifiable use of force in the case, even if he decides that’s the case, the county prosecutor may also present to the grand jury, when in the interest of justice it merits sending it to a grand jury, and that is to enhance public confidence in the thoroughness, impartiality and integrity of an investigation.” said First Assistant Prosecutor Paul Colangelo.

Police and community leaders say it’s important for everyone to understand the process of an investigation in a police-involved shooting because in the absence of that, assumptions are made.

“It is so important to have the proper facts. Because if the facts are not presented, people make assumptions. And when you make an assumption, you’re actually going to make a negative assumption. You’re not going to make a positive one, unless you know the person, unless you have a relationship with them.” said Loretta Winters, president of Gloucester County NAACP.

“A lot of times the way people find out information, they’re not made aware of all the facts of a particular case, and understanding all the facts and going into a case with eyes wide open in a situation like this, and just understanding what the process is, hopefully is going to lead to just a more general understanding of what’s going on in the world in these types of unfortunate incidences.” said Fiore.

When asked if this is a way to prevent community violence when people jump to conclusions, Fiore responded, “Without a doubt.”

New Jersey law enforcers, prosecutors and community leaders say they’ve worked hard over the years in training and building relationships to avoid the violent and ugly aftermath of police-involved shootings that have made other towns notorious.