Justice For All: NJ attorney general gives police departments 2 months to release discipline records
New Jersey’s top law enforcement officer has issued an order to police chiefs — you have two months to start naming names.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has been pushing to out any officer who has been fired, demoted or suspended more than five days. It’s the latest promise of police transparency from the state government.
Grewal is acting on a recent win at the state Supreme Court, which ruled he does have the power to mandate the public release of these records.
These initial reports, Grewal said, will cover discipline imposed between June 15, 2020 — the date of his original order — and the end of this year.
The court did not render a decision on a controversial aspect of his directive: releasing records going back 20 years.
Police chiefs around the state aren’t so sure this will improve the profession, but it's the latest signal that New Jersey is going through a seismic shift in policy.
“All these changes, you’re talking six or seven monumental changes,” said Ken Ferrante, Hoboken’s police chief.
New policies include the addition of officer body cameras, changes to use of force, marijuana legalization, juvenile justice reform, updates to car chase procedures and internal affairs mandates -- which now include those disciplinary records being revealed.
“We know and our officers know, that’s part of the discipline now, Ferrante said.
Still, he doesn’t see how digging up the past will help. An officer nearly for 30 years, he’s been leading Hoboken police for the last seven.
But Ferrante is retiring this month, partly because these new policies will take years to properly adopt — and he’s not willing to commit to that.
The pandemic and George Floyd protests have posed challenges, Ferrante said, like never before.
He’s proud of his department’s record and doesn’t appreciate being force-fed directives from the state government.
“All coming from above and being mandated, this is what you have to do. It takes away some of your creativity, some of how you want to run your agency in your city," he says.
Does it mean police will stop policing?
In Hoboken, service calls are down almost 10%. Some of that, Ferrante said, is because officers aren’t initiating as much.
“Officer-initiated contacts and stops have greatly diminished but I think that’s something the people in this country, the people in this state have been calling for.”
And he says officers hear that.
But some will say that New Jersey is not going far enough when it comes to change. There are still calls for civilian review boards and the end to so-called "qualified immunity."
Text and reporting by Nick Meidanis