LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

State AG announces initiative to boost oversight and accountability in law enforcement

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Wednesday unveiled a sweeping plan designed to bolster public trust in the state’s criminal justice system by increasing oversight and accountability of both law enforcement agencies and police officers and prosecutors.

“We want to root out those small number of cops who engage in misconduct, who dishonor their colleagues, and who diminish the great work that the men and women behind me and across our state do on a daily basis,” Grewal said at a press conference in Newark, surrounded by police chiefs, county prosecutors and other law enforcement personnel.

Called the “Excellence in Policing Initiative,” the plan lays out reforms in police discipline, reviews of officer-involved shootings and other use-of-force incidents, and police training — including a study of potentially licensing officers the same way the state does teachers, which would be a first for New Jersey.

Among the elements of the plan:

  • Ensuring independent investigations of incidents, including police-involved shootings and in-custody deaths, implementing a uniform, 10-stop process statewide and transferring investigative and prosecutorial responsibility for fatal cases to the state Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.
  • Establishing a presumption in favor of the public release of video footage of serious incidents, including those captured by third-party surveillance cameras or civilian smart phones.
  • Bolstering police disciplinary procedures, including those that facilitate timely resolution of complaints of police misconduct and a requirement that departments release an annual report on internal affairs complaints and how they were resolved.
  • Creating a pilot program incorporating police departments in six towns — Bridgeton, Dover, Linden, Millville, Paterson, and South Brunswick — to test the state’s new portal, which ultimately will provide statewide access to reports departments must file on incidents involving use of force by their officers.
  • Tasking the state’s existing Police Training Commission — comprising representatives of state and local law enforcement agencies and unions representing rank and file officers — to assess training practices and recommend enhancements. The group is also being told to evaluate police licensure in New Jersey, one of the few states in the nation where police officers do not need a license.
  • Establishing rules and procedures for the timely disclosure by county prosecutors of so-called Brady/Giglio evidence in criminal cases, so named for two Supreme Court cases that required the state to reveal exculpatory material it uncovered, both to attorneys for the accused and to juries.
  • Bolstering oversight of municipal prosecutors, a move Grewal touted as a way to improve the quality of justice in the state’s municipal courts.

The initiative also addresses how departments deal with what it calls “at-risk” officers. Next year, the state plans to unveil a system that bolsters protocols already in place to identify such police officers, and helps agencies develop comprehensive corrective plans.

“Our goal is not to catch the occasional bad apple in law enforcement, though we certainly will do that,” said Tom Eicher, executive director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, an entity established by Grewal last year. “Our goal is to make sure that officers have the oversight, training and tools to correct improper conduct before it ripens into a full-blown problem.”

In his remarks, Grewal described the reforms as comprehensive.

“These documents reflect the most significant restructuring of policing practices, certainly during my tenure as Attorney General, and perhaps in the history of the Office of the Attorney General,” he said.

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