AG: N.J. police departments must publicly report misconduct cases
Departments are now required to produce public reports when officers are found to use excessive force, lie on the job or engage in other misconduct
By S.P. Sullivan
TRENTON, N.J. — Responding to a state Supreme Court decision finding authorities too often withhold police misconduct records, New Jersey’s attorney general on Tuesday ordered departments to produce public reports when officers are found to use excessive force, lie on the job or engage in other misconduct.
The directive, issued by Attorney General Matthew Platkin, “is fundamental to ensuring confidence in the work of law enforcement,” Platkin said, adding that it would not affect most police officers.
“The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers are not getting sustained (internal affairs) violations in these categories,” he said.
New Jersey is one of just a handful of states with laws on the books that shield police misconduct records from public view. But in 2020, then-Attorney General Gurbir Grewal ordered every department in the state to produce an annual report of each police internal affairs inquiry resulting in “major discipline” — defined as resulting in five or more days of suspension.
It was a step toward police transparency in New Jersey. But some of the results were lacking, with departments producing vague descriptions like “misconduct on duty.”
The new directive, Platkin said, “tightens up the standards” so departments can no longer “hide behind cursory explanations” to obscure the nature of misconduct.
Under the order, departments are required to publicly disclose each year which of their officers were found to have used excessive force; exhibited bias or discrimination; filed a false report or lied in the course of duty; intentionally conducted an improper search or seizure; intentionally mishandled evidence or engaged in domestic violence.
“These classes of conduct are so significant in how they undermine trust in law enforcement that regardless of what discipline they result in, we should be disclosing it,” Platkin told NJ Advance Media in an interview.
The attorney general also issued guidance for departments to comply with a recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision, known as Rivera v. Union County Prosecutor’s Office, which held that members of the public should have access to internal affairs reports that result in a finding of serious misconduct.
Starting in January, in cases involving the categories of misconduct in the directive, police departments are required to produce “a summary and conclusions report that sets forth a summary of the allegations, a summary the factual findings, and the final discipline that was imposed.”
Richard Rivera, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, praised the attorney general’s directive but said it did not go far enough.
“It’s a step toward greater transparency,” he said, “but these are still just baby steps.”
Rivera — the civilian police director in Penns Grove and a former West New York cop who once wore a wire for the FBI to expose misconduct in Hudson County — said the onus is now on local departments and the county prosecutors that oversee them to comply with the directive and provide public details about police misconduct.
“It’s really not the AG that we need to rely on,” Rivera said. “It’s the local police and the county prosecutor that need to step up and do right.”
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