EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Along with several other organizations on July 30, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office sponsored a “Community Listening Session” livestream on the use of force by police. Members of the Middlesex County Association of Chiefs of Police, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), NOBLE (National Organization of Black Law Enforcement), and NCLO (National Coalition of Latino Officers) were present on the panel. From 6:00 to 7:30 PM, they answered citizen-submitted questions about the use of force by police, and discussed what they planned to do to address concerns in the wake of recent incidents of police brutality. 

Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone served as the panel’s mediator, posing questions and moderating discussion. In her words, the aim of the listening session was to “strengthen relationships between the prosecutor’s office, law enforcement, and the communities that they serve” by giving citizens a say in local policing. Over the hour and a half that the meeting was streamed for, Ciccone and a panel of six discussed the current state of policing policy and how they would like to see it changed in the future, along with answering questions that were submitted by citizens in advance over email.

The end goal is to update New Jersey’s use of force policy by the end of 2020, or instate a new one altogether. The current policy that the state follows is over twenty years old. With these changing times and the increased focus on the use of force by police, the policy must be revised to better prevent the incidence of the abuse of power.

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“We police have to have the consent of the community,” said Jiles Ship, president of the New Jersey chapter of NOBLE and a professor at Rutgers University’s School of Criminal Justice. Ricardo Burgos, another participant in the panel and a member of NCLO’s reform committee, added that it is very important for police to maintain a good relationship with the community. “Half the people who respect the law are deathly afraid of cops,” he noted.

The thing to blame for the rise in use of force and botched investigations, according to the panel? A police culture that focuses on togetherness rather than independent action, and that values speed and efficiency over a job well done. Police rushing through work and trying to get things done quickly rather than thoroughly has caused accidents in the past. “We don’t want to create situations where we need to use force by rushing as police officers” said Joseph Walsh, a Deputy Attorney General.

Groupthink can also be common in police environments, and those who point out injustices they see often end up shunned. Burgos related some stories of past incidents from his time in the police force: “If you said something, even to Internal Affairs, somehow everyone found out about it.” The panel agreed that police should be encouraged to report miscarriages of justice, not discriminated against for it. Police culture should be more accommodating not just to citizens of local communities, but to the police themselves.

A statewide portal on the use of force by police has been announced and already implemented in several counties. With this, New Jersey citizens will be able to view statistics on local police and nearby incidents. The state plans to make the portal available to Middlesex County citizens sometime in August.

In the meantime, the state is requesting comments from citizens on the current force policy in preparation for the new one. New Jersey locals will be able to submit their opinions until August 21, 2020. Comments can be submitted through https://www.nj.gov/oag/force