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More public disclosure of serious police misconduct

Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin issued a policy that significantly increases annual public disclosure of serious misconduct by New Jersey law enforcement officers.

This action builds upon a 2020 directive that required agencies to report each year synopses of any “major discipline” issued—termination, demotion, or suspension of more than five days.

Today’s policy adds the following categories of discipline to the annual release, regardless of the discipline imposed:

Under the directive, by January 31 of each year, law enforcement agencies will report to the Attorney General and publish on their public website, a brief synopsis of misconduct falling within the enumerated categories and the name of the officer involved.

The directive requires that the synopsis provide sufficient detail to enable a reader who is not familiar with the case to fully understand the factual scenario that resulted in the disciplinary action.

Reflecting these same transparency interests, a recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision, Rivera v. Union County Prosecutor’s Office, 250 N.J. 124 (2022), requires that a range of internal affairs reports may be publicly accessible under the common law right of access upon request.

The directive lays out a framework to improve the efficiency of agency responses to requests for internal affairs records under the common law right of access—avoiding the need for burdensome litigation on all sides.

Specifically, upon request by a member of the public or the press, if an incident falls within one of the enumerated categories discussed above, agencies will disclose a summary and conclusions report that sets forth a summary of the allegations, a summary of the factual findings, and the final discipline that was imposed.

The directive is available online at: https://www.njoag.gov/resources/ag-directives/

Previous disclosures of law enforcement disciplinary information are available at njoag.gov/majordiscipline.

“Transparency is fundamental to ensuring confidence in the work of law enforcement,” said Platkin. “These disclosures of police internal affairs information are an unprecedented step in promoting that transparency, and a continuation of our efforts with respect to greater accountability and professionalism. The relationships between law enforcement and community members will be better served by making this information publicly available.”

“The Attorney General’s directive issued today reflects careful and balanced policymaking, and the end result serves a variety of important interests, including improving transparency and avoiding burdens on law enforcement agencies receiving public records requests,” said Thomas J. Eicher, director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. “Public support for law enforcement is essential and an effective, transparent internal affairs process is vital to that support.”

“The New Jersey State Police is committed to incorporating practices that foster transparency and accountability in order to build trust within the communities we serve,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “We have an established system with multiple layers of oversight meant to identify potentially deficient patrol practices or behaviors, and… the public will now have additional insight into the process that holds our troopers to the highest standards.”

Police unions have been critical of disclosure requirements but they have diminished their own credibility by staunchly defending officers accused of misconduct regardless of the circumstances.

The vast majority of police officers in America perform difficult jobs with respect for their communities and in compliance with the law, unfortunately there are incidents in which this is not the case.

It is a federal crime for anyone acting under color of law willfully to deprive or conspire to deprive another person of any right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is responsible for investigating allegations of criminal deprivations of civil rights, may be contacted here:
https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us

If you would like to report a violation of the Police Misconduct Statute, Title VI, or the OJP Program Statute, contact the Justice Department at civilrights.justice.gov.

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