Police ‘use of force’ town hall held in Essex County to address reform

In response to the growing conversation about police tactics, the Essex County prosecutor held a town hall meeting to talk about how to revise policies to match today’s society.

News 12 Staff

Jul 16, 2020, 2:52 AM

Updated 1,378 days ago

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Use-of-force protocols used by police officers have been thrust into the spotlight following the death of George Floyd.
Although Floyd’s death took place in Minnesota, it has resonated with every city in the nation. In response to the growing conversation about police tactics, the Essex County prosecutor held a town hall meeting to talk about how to revise policies to match today’s society.
New Jersey’s use-of-force policy has not changed in 20 years. But state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has promised to make some changes.
Essex County Prosecutor Theodore Stephens says that police reform starts with selection.
“We need to look at the type of individuals we are recruiting to come in to be a police officer. Maybe less militaristic, more form the community and a different skill set,” he says.
Stephens’ office is in the middle of a use-of-force case involving Newark police officer Jovanny Crespo, who fired at two suspects, killing one of them after a high-speed car chase.
But the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office is not unique in dealing with such cases. There are high-profile cases like Floyd, but even this weekend in Ocean County, authorities are looking at an arrest made in Point Pleasant Beach that some critics say was too rough.
Such cases are why those who work for the Prosecutor’s Office are offering up ideas for change. One suggestion is to change the training for the officers.
“To make part of the curriculum for new officers, community engagement, community understanding, cultural understanding,” says Mitchel McGuire, chief of detectives for the Essex County prosecutor.
Photos: Protests Across New Jersey
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The investigators say that these cases need to be closed faster and that police must report misconduct. More training is also needed in areas of use of force, high-speed chases and defensive tactics. Officers are now only given 40 hours of training.
“That’s 40 hours of hands-on training, but then potentially a 30-year career after that. So, is 40 hours enough for 30 years? The attorney general doesn’t think so. We don’t think so,” says Assistant Prosecutor Alex Albu.
The panel also took questions from the public. The first question asking if systematic racism will ever be eradicated.
“So, I think, will it ever stop? I’d be optimistic to say, ‘Yes.’ But we have to deal with underlying problems first,” Stephens answered.
A representative for the New Jersey State Police says that the culture of police must change if implied biases are to disappear. He said that there needs to be zero tolerance for that behavior.
Grewal is asking every county to hold similar meetings so that the public, police and prosecutors can make the changes together.


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