New Jersey state Senator Joseph “Lock ’em up Joe” Cryan is facing criticism over his position on bail reform and police accountability.
Cryan has proposed legislation that would roll back some of New Jersey’s bail reform laws, which are credited with progress made in recent years to reduce the number of people held in jail while awaiting trial.
Critics argue that Cryan’s proposals would disproportionately harm Black people, who are locked up in New Jersey at a rate 12 times higher than White people, who are over-represented in elected offices in the Senator’s district.
In addition, Cryan has been endorsed by police unions that supported former President Donald Trump, raising doubts about his commitment to police accountability. Both the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association (NJSPBA) and the union that represents members of the New Jersey State Police, State Troopers’ Fraternal Association, have announced they are supporting Lock ’em up Joe, who was employed by the Union County Sheriff from 2002 until he was elected to that office in 2014.
These endorsements come as activists and community members call for reforms that would hold police officers accountable for their actions, especially in cases of police brutality and excessive use of force.
Police unions and officers spend tens of millions of dollars annually to influence law enforcement policy and thwart pushes for reform, an analysis of local, county, state and federal campaign finance records found. Reform advocates say that spending partly explains why police unions have defeated most reform measures in recent years, even as high-profile police killings of unarmed black men sparked waves of public outrage including the current national demonstrations against racism sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
At the federal level, police officers and their unions have spent at least $47.3m on campaign contributions and lobbying in recent election cycles, according to Maplight data and US Senate and US House records.
“The power of their money runs very deep,” said Hamid Khan, director of Stop LAPD Spying, a grassroots anti-surveillance watchdog group. “[Local governments] have become rubber-stamp bodies in which police power is never challenged.”
While Cryan’s policy proposals and endorsements have drawn muted criticism, he has not addressed important complex issues that require thoughtful consideration to find solutions that balance the needs of residents impacted by criminal justice system and rogue law enforcement officials.
The state Attorney General’s Office took over the police department in New Jersey’s fourth largest municipality and forced Elizabeth Police Director James Cosgrove to resign in April 2019, after corroborating complaints he used sexist and racist language to describe city employees, while Police Chief John Brennan was suspended, but Cryan stayed silent.
While Cryan was the county sheriff, it took almost a year for charges to be brought against Elizabeth Police Officer Edward Shields, who was caught on police body cams and surveillance cameras violently beating 27-year-old Raul Tornes, who is seen on video in handcuffs being choked, beaten, and dragged inside the police headquarters.
Cryan is member of the New Jersey State Senate representing the 20th Legislative District, which includes Elizabeth, Union, Roselle and Kenilworth. He was previously a one-term Union County Sheriff and he served in the New Jersey General Assembly from 2001 to 2015.