‘Openness’ not ‘bad’: New Jersey reveals the identities of police officers who have been disciplined for misbehavior.
News And Updates | 4th Oct, 2021
In a step state officials say would increase police openness in New Jersey, the state attorney general’s office published the identities of over 200 officers disciplined for significant misbehavior in the second half of 2020,
The report details a litany of violations committed by police enforcement across the state, including any disciplinary action that resulted in a dismissal, demotion, or suspension of over five days.
Some are trivial in nature, such as the 12-day suspension of a Camden police officer who phoned in ill and attended a party. Others are more grave, such as the 68-day suspension of a Passaic County Sheriff’s deputy following a drunken-driving arrest.
Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck commented in a statement. “We are releasing this information not to shame or embarrass individual officers, but to provide the same type of transparency and accountability in policing that New Jersey mandates in other essential professions,” He added, “We are doing this because it is an important and necessary step to build greater public trust while promoting professionalism in law enforcement.”
The list was made public two months after the state Supreme Court determined that former Attorney General Gurbir Grewal did not go too far when he ordered police departments to reveal the names. The findings are the first practical consequences of a transparency effort that began after the unarmed Black man George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.
New Jersey is one of roughly a half-dozen states that have historically kept most police data private. In the past, the state obliged agencies to produce a yearly list of major disciplinary proceedings. Still, it did not reveal the identity of the officers.
Nevertheless, few people looked pleased with the latest report on Wednesday.
Also, some people did not buy the idea.
CJ Griffin, a Hackensack lawyer who believes Grewal’s ruling is insufficient, is on the list. Additionally, Police union representatives, who are still stinging from their legal setback in June, which allowed it to be published, did not buy the idea.
Griffin, representing NorthJersey.com and The Record in public documents cases, said she has already discovered inconsistencies in police agencies’ accounts of critical disciplinary instances. Police are now documenting the cases much more selectively now that identities are revealed, she added.
Griffin explained in an email, “These disclosures reveal exactly what we advocates feared: Police departments are being less than candid ... and sometimes providing false information.” She added, “And because the AG didn’t do what was right and open [internal affairs] files up, we have no way to fact check them other than through what is publicly available elsewhere.”
She encouraged the state Legislature to enact S-2656, a bill that would make certain police disciplinary records public, including complaints, allegations, charges, dispositions of processes, and transcripts of any disciplinary hearing, which she filed last summer. She also believes Bruck should insist that some agencies update their reports to contain more depth, context, and integrity.
In the meantime, the president of the state’s biggest police union said the list primarily aims to disgrace officers and make it more difficult for them to find jobs once they retire, especially if their name gets on the list as a result of a small infraction like being late.
Pat Colligan, the union’s president, said, “There are just certain personnel issues that don’t need to be out there,” he added, “Why would a five- or 10-day rip for lateness for duty have anything to do with the officer’s character or ability to be a good police officer?”
He’s also concerned that chiefs would “weaponize” the report by publicly shaming cops they don’t like. “They can say, ‘Oh, I’m going to give this guy major discipline to make sure he’s in the paper next year and ruin his career,’” He said.
Tom Shea, the head of Seton Hall University’s Police Graduate Studies program and a retired Long Branch police lieutenant, was also concerned that being included in the report would permanently damage an officer’s reputation.
“If we were all judged by our worst moment and our stupidity in a singular incident – we’d all be in trouble,” Shea said. “But I understand that the police work for the public. I do get both sides. But I think they need to figure out some balance on that.”
He believes the attorney general’s office and police unions should strike an amicable agreement detailing a unified reporting requirement. Else, he predicts the future as being packed with legal disputes after legal disputes.
Shea said, “There needs to be a signed agreement,
It shows good faith.”
Grewal declared his strategy to release the identities last June, fair as the outrage over Floyd’s death reached a fever pitch. Grewal stated at the time that he wanted to put an end to the habit of “protecting the few to the detriment of the many.”
Police unions filed lawsuits right away. Their lawyers argued in court that the attorney general’s decision was based on politics rather than evidence that releasing the names would deter cops from misbehaving. The courts, on the other hand, regularly allied with Grewal.
According to the attorney general’s website, police departments must disclose all significant disciplinary on Jan. 31 for the previous calendar year.