To the Editor:
This unsettling time in our nation brought on by the senseless murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers demands sweeping police reform. In an effort to calm the demands, Congress has proposed federal legislation that mandates a zero-tolerance approach in penalizing and/or prosecuting police officers who kill unarmed, non-violent, and non-resisting individuals during an arrest. The Bridgewater Township Democratic Committee wholeheartedly supports this bill and proposes a citizens committee to review Bridgewater’s policing policies and practices. Additionally, we offer the following recommendations to facilitate a discussion between the Bridgewater Township Democratic Committee and the mayor and chief of police.
- We want to ensure that the Bridgewater Police department does not and will not participate in any federal program to accept military equipment which has no place on our streets and should not be a part of municipal law enforcement. The Bridgewater Police should make public an inventory of any such equipment, an accounting of if and when it has been used and ultimately should divest itself of this equipment.
- End any "qualified immunity" doctrine that prevents police from being held legally accountable for their criminal/immoral actions.
- Develop a new model for policing communities that envisions the Bridgewater Police Department as a leader in "fair and equal" treatment of all races, colors, creeds, sexual orientation and genders. Bridgewater Police actions should not contribute to the shameful statistics that place New Jersey among the highest racial disparity rates of incarceration in the nation due to racial profiling.
- Emergency calls related to psychiatric, drug abuse and homeless situations should be redirected from 911 to appropriate mental health and social services providers, thus avoiding any catastrophic encounters with the police.
- Police should be trained in de-escalation strategies to avoid/reduce the use of force.
- Annual diversity training should be mandated for all police officers.
- Chokeholds must be banned.
- Shootings by police officers should be investigated by an outside authority.
- An independent investigation should be held in the event that an individual is killed by the police. The Attorney General for New Jersey should oversee such cases.
- There should be transparency regarding any disciplinary actions contained in police officers' records. When a police officer is dismissed because of bigoted behavior/incidents, this information should be shared with other police departments around the nation, thereby building a database of these offenders.
- Bridgewater police have been wearing body cams since 2016. The equipment should be up-to-date, turned on during operations and available for timely public review if there is an incident. The same comments apply to the use of dash cams.
- Review the Camden NJ model of community policing. If appropriate, adapt those city programs that would help make the Bridgewater police an integral part of the community.
Finally, we welcome a meeting with the mayor and chief of police at their earliest convenience to initiate this discussion.
Joan Pritchard, Secretary Bridgewater Democratic Committee
Sandra Rhue, Publicity Chair, Bridgewater Democratic Committee