EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - The East Brunswick Human Relations Council held a second Coffee and Conversation discussion with Chief of Police Frank LoSacco and Mayor Brad Cohen, in which the group further discussed the issue of race relations and answered questions that citizens had about policing. The meeting was held Monday, June 15 at 7:00 PM over Facebook Live, and has received over 1,000 views.
This time, the stream was meant to be more of a live discussion than the previous one was. Instead of only taking pre-submitted questions, the police chief and mayor answered questions posed to them by viewers in the stream’s comments section. One complaint about the previous stream was that pressing issues that citizens had were not addressed, and the new format was meant to remedy that problem.
Perhaps the most common question posed during the previous stream regarded divisive postings by Christine Conlon, an East Brunswick Police Department employee. In a private Facebook group, Conlon posted a meme implying that people protesting police brutality deserve to be “digested” by heavy machinery. LoSacco was quick to denounce these postings: “It came to my attention immediately following the Facebook event, and quite frankly we don’t tolerate any intolerant postings,” he said. Conlon was referred to the Office of Professional Standards, and an investigation into her posts is ongoing.
The law prevents LoSacco from commenting further on the current state of the investigation, but he promises that “swift and precise action will be taken.” Another recent incident, the leaking of an internal statement regarding rumor that “police supporters” would be attacked, went unaddressed. It is unclear if that is also being investigated.
Another, more recent discussion topic was whether East Brunswick would be participating in the Commit To Action Pledge, an initiative launched by the Obama foundation that strives to make local mayors and their citizens more involved in critiquing and reforming their local police forces. Cohen noted that East Brunswick has been encouraging citizens to be a part of their legislative process for a while, and that the recent Coffee and Conversation discussions are an opportunity for them to evaluate the police force. He also said that if a citizen committee was chosen for this pledge, he would want them to properly represent the demographics that have expressed concerns with the police - in this case, black East Brunswick residents.
“We want people to leave with a level of comfort that - while we can’t speak for outside of East Brunswick - that we do everything we can to keep these instances from happening here,” said Cohen.
Viewers also wanted to know how they could file complaints against police officers, and how seriously these complaints would be taken. While Cohen claimed that “We get way more compliments on the conduct and manner of our police officers [than complaints],” and that approval ratings for East Brunswick police are even higher than approval ratings for East Brunswick schools, he and LoSacco ensured that complaints filed are taken seriously. LoSacco discussed EBPD’s “Guardian Tracking” system at length - it is an electronic system that the department has been using for several years that allows supervisors to track discriminatory or otherwise problematic behavior in officers. The system is also in place to make sure that disciplinary measures that these officers receive actually work.
While most complaints against police officers are not made public, the Attorney General recently signed a directive meant to better discipline police officers. If an officer has received a major demotion as a result of their actions, their misconduct will be made public. As for local transparency, LoSacco mentioned that all internal affairs numbers are made available on the EBPD website.
“We go above and beyond to make sure we’re weeding out any potential wrongdoing,” he said, though he claims that such complaints are rare.
The recent Black Lives Matter protest was also brought up, with the reason that few police officers were present at the event being that East Brunswick is still in the midst of a pandemic, and did not want any officers to contract COVID-19 from being in such a large crowd. The police worked with the protest organizers, though, helping to cone off roads for the march.
At the end of the stream, Erum Shakir, the EBHRC chair, encouraged citizens to attend future Coffee and Conversation discussions in order to have more input on the community.