New Jersey’s Attorney General has set a 60-day deadline for all law enforcement agencies to publish their first public reports identifying officers who committed serious disciplinary violations.
The required reports will cover any major discipline imposed by New Jersey law enforcement agencies between June 15, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2020, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said in guidance announced June 9.
Grewal’s announcement of a 60-day deadline follows on the heels of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s June 7 unanimous decision upholding Grewal’s June 2020 directives regarding the release of police disciplinary records. Those directives prompted five groups representing state and local law enforcement officers to file a lawsuit.
In its ruling, the state’s highest court permitted the release of names of law enforcement officers who commit actions that result in “major discipline.”
Grewal: ‘New Chapter for Police Transparency’
“This week’s Supreme Court decision heralded a new chapter for police transparency and accountability in New Jersey,” Grewal said in a press statement announcing the guidance (AG Directive 2021-6).
“Today’s directive restarts the process that was put on hold by the courts last summer and lays the groundwork for an initial round of public disclosures in the next few months,” the Attorney General stated. “By lifting the cloak of secrecy over our state’s police disciplinary process, we are not simply ensuring accountability for those who engage in misconduct; we are also demonstrating that the vast majority of law enforcement officers work hard and play by the rules.”
Grewal noted that for decades New Jersey had treated police disciplinary files as confidential.
‘Major Discipline Directive’
On June 15, 2020, Grewal issued Directive 2020-5, the “Major Discipline Directive,” which required law enforcement agencies to publish at least once a year a brief synopsis of all complaints resulting in major discipline, including the names of the officers who were punished. The directive defined major discipline as termination, reduction in rank or grade, and/or suspension of more than five days.
Grewal said he issued the Major Discipline Directive to restore public trust and promote a culture of transparency and accountability in policing across the state. Directive 2020-5 was issued three weeks after a police officer murdered George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, during an arrest on suspicion of using a counterfeit $20 bill in Minneapolis.
The directive, which applied to all law enforcement agencies in the state, revised New Jersey’s Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures to reflect the policy change. Another directive that Grewal issued, 2020-6, applied to New Jersey’s state police and all other agencies within the Department of Law and Public Safety.
Legal challenges halted the directives’ implementation.
Broader Overhaul of Policing
Grewal’s efforts to increase transparency are part of the AG’s broader efforts to overhaul policing in the Garden State. In December 2020, he revised the state’s “Use of Force Policy” to place tougher limits on law enforcement’s use of force against civilians.
Additionally, he has taken steps to:
- overhaul police training;
- collect and publish information about interactions between law enforcement and civilians; and
- establish new policies to protect immigrants, LGBTQ+ individuals and others in their interactions with law enforcement.
New Directive Details
Grewal’s new directive (2021-6) states that 60 days after June 9 law enforcement agencies must publish their first reports. “Going forward, law enforcement agencies must publish all major discipline for each calendar year no later than January 31 of the following year,” according to the AG.
The new directive prevents agencies from disclosing the identities of victims of officer misconduct, including domestic violence victims. Additionally, it bars agencies from entering into agreements with disciplined officers that limit how an agency will describe the officers’ misconduct in its annual public report or that prevent the AG from disclosing information about the incident to the public.