State leaders present measures to strengthen police-community trust

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Newark Police Department (Martin Alonso, Newark Police Ford CVPI, CC BY 2.0)
By Bradford Mason

In the wake of the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, police departments across the nation are reexamining how they enforce the law, particularly on people of color.

In the time since the May 25 video recorded killing of Floyd at the hands of now-former police officer Derek Chauvin, protests and demonstration have ignited an overdue conversation about policing and race.

Recently, Governor Phil Murphy and State Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal updated the New Jerseyans on initiatives designed to ensure that police are held to the highest professional standards; that use of force is monitored and governed by the strongest policies; that officers are trained to de-escalate situations involving individuals in crisis; and that the State responds immediately to major civil rights incidents that threaten police-community trust. 

The reforms are an expansion of the “Excellence in Policing” initiative launched by Grewal and other law enforcement leaders in December 2019. 

“Fixing a system that is fundamentally broken requires us to acknowledge the erosion of trust between communities of color and law enforcement,” said  Murphy. “From day one, my Administration has been committed to bringing transformational change to community policing and police culture in New Jersey. Under Attorney General Grewal’s leadership, we will take further steps to build upon our progress and deepen the well of trust in our communities, including the first update of our use-of-force policies in two decades. ” 

Grewal added that Floyd's killing serves as a reminder that the nation has a long way to go to address racism and implicit bias.

“Long before this week’s protests, we committed ourselves to making New Jersey a national leader in policing reform," Grewal said. "And we’re in this for the long haul, not because it’s easy or popular, but because it’s the right thing to do.” 

Murphy and Grewal outlined the following initiatives:

Expanding “Crisis Intervention Team” (CIT-NJ) Training: Experts say that one of the most effective ways to reduce police use-of-force and death-in-custody incidents is by expanding the use of Crisis Intervention Teams (CITs), which help officers respond to situations involving individuals with mental health issues. However, CIT training is expensive and typically available only from a handful of outside vendors. To reduce the barriers to entry, the Attorney General’s Office is exploring the capacity to build a statewide CIT training program. As a first step, the state will launch a pilot program, using an outside vendor, with police departments in Atlantic City, Paterson, Trenton, and Millville, as well as New Jersey State Police Troopers assigned in Trenton. 

Endorsing Statewide Certification for Police Officers: In December 2019, as part of the “Excellence in Policing” initiative, Grewal asked the Police Training Commission (PTC) to consider implementing a statewide professional licensure program for police, as well as a framework for enhancing all police training. That analysis is nearly complete, and a proposal for a statewide program will be presented to the PTC later this month, with support from Grewal. 

Statewide Use of Force Portal: Earlier this year, the Attorney General’s Office launched a pilot program for the new statewide Use of Force Portal. That pilot program is now complete, and the Attorney General’s Office is ready to begin expanding the program statewide in July. The Use of Force Portal will allow for the gathering and meaningful analysis of uniform use-of-force data from all law enforcement agencies in New Jersey. 

Updating Use-of-Force Policy: The Attorney General’s Office has not updated its use-of-force policy in two decades. In December 2019, Attorney General Grewal announced that the Office of Public Integrity & Accountability (OPIA) would undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the use-of-force policy. Today, Attorney General Grewal announced that he will issue an AG Directive by the end of 2020 that will revise and update the policy for all 36,000 law enforcement officers in New Jersey. In developing the policy, he will consult widely with stakeholders and draw on data collected through the new Use of Force portal. 

Division on Civil Rights (DCR) Incident Response Team: Unlike the federal government, New Jersey currently lacks a team of community-relations specialists who can respond in the community following a major civil rights incident. The Attorney General’s Office intends to develop such a team within DCR in the months ahead. 

CIT-NJ Director Edward C. Dobleman said that CIT-NJ is based on several community partnerships including law enforcement, mental health professionals and other local resources. All of the agencies work together to de-escalate situations. 

"CIT-NJ Center of Excellence was started in 2007 in Camden County and is now active in 18 of our 21 counties," Dobleman said. "With this new plan and partnership, we here at CIT-NJ are excited to expand our program and bring the program to our New Jersey State Police as well as a new pilot program focusing on several New Jersey Police Departments to further educate and implement new evidence-based crisis intervention while bringing our communities together during these difficult times."

Over the past two years, the Grewal's office has consulted closely with law enforcement leaders, community leaders, police unions, civil rights groups, and victims’ advocates to ensure that policing reforms are developed.. The process has helped the Attorney General’s Office develop policies with  support across law enforcement. 

"Our law enforcement officers are charged with the service and protection of all the citizens of New Jersey, and this training will equip them with additional tools to assist those experiencing a mental health crisis,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “I am proud to join our state, local, and medical partners in this crucial training initiative, and I am confident that it will enhance our ability to provide a greater level of service to our communities.” 

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