The Attorney General of New Jersey, Gurbir Grewal, has issued a new Directive (#2020-5) for all state and local law enforcement agencies to begin to identify law enforcement officers (“LEOs”) who are disciplined for serious misconduct. From now on, all LEOs who are terminated, reduced in rank, or suspended for more than 5 days will be identified by name in reports which local law enforcement agencies must publish annually beginning this year.
In New Jersey, the internal disciplinary process for law enforcement agencies is governed by Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures (“IAPP”), a binding policy first issued by A.G. in 1991 and revised numerous times since. By law (N.J.S.A. 40A:14-181), every law enforcement agency in the state is required to adopt policies consistent with the IAPP. Previously local agencies were required to compile and publish annual “synopses” of their internal disciplinary actions, which included only officers who were suspended for more than 10 days or received more serious discipline. Even those synopses did not need to identify the officer. The new directive revises the IAPP for all agencies to include names, effective immediately, and prospectively.
Despite its prospective application, Grewal announced that agencies within N.J. Department of Law and Public Safety – including the New Jersey State Police (“NJSP”), the Division of Criminal Justice (“DCJ”), and Juvenile Justice Commission (“JJC”) – will also retroactively identify LEOs within those agencies who have been subject to serious discipline in the past. The NJSP is expected to publish the identities of previously disciplined State Troopers beginning July 15, 2020.
AG Grewal’s stated purpose is “to promote trust, transparency and accountability” in law enforcement, no doubt spurred by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officer Derek Chauvin, and the resulting public outrage. In Chauvin’s 19-year career with the MPD prior to killing Floyd, he was subject to 17 internal affairs investigations and disciplined once, receiving a letter of reprimand. The new directive promises some increase in transparency at least in the immediate future. People charged with crimes, defense attorneys, and civil rights groups should soon be able to immediately research arresting officers’ records of serious discipline and, where such records exist, will more likely file civil lawsuits and advocate for criminal charges against LEOs. As AG Grewal noted, such misconduct can include excessive use of force, racially derogatory comments, theft, the filing of false reports, and other conduct outside of duty hours, including DWI and domestic violence. Whether trust and accountability follow the transparency remains to be seen.