JERSEY CITY, NJ - City Councilmembers Denise Ridley and James Solomon agreed to talk about merging their separate versions of legislation proposing the creation of a civilian led board to review police complaints. Even with the compromise, Council President Joyce Watterman reminded the body at their caucus meeting Monday, both will have to wait until state lawmakers enact legislation to even allow any board to have the powers being proposed.
While the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in August that it could be legal for these kinds of boards to have greater power than they've had previously, especially subpoena and investigative powers, state law does not yet allow them to do so. The court ruled that the state legislature would have to approve a law for these boards – currently proposed in Jersey City and Newark – to proceed.
Both Ridley and Solomon said they have met with Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31) who has crafted legislation in response to the Court’s ruling.
In agreement that the any board should have subpoena and investigatory power, Solomon’s version has funding being diverted from the police budget line while Ridley’s proposal leaves it open to the mayor and council to determine how it is paid for.
Additionally, Ridley’s version would allow each council person to pick a member of the review board – which could include activists, as well as representation from the Department of Public Safety, while Solomon’s version envisions an 11-member body, each serving three-year terms, with seven of them being picked by specific community groups including the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement, ACLU-NJ, Jersey City NAACP, Jersey City Together, and Hudson Pride.
Raising objection to Solomon’s proposal was Councilman Daniel Rivera who shared his concern that it seems to have left the Latino community out of the process.
“When you talk about black and brown people, you seem to have left brown people out,” Rivera said, noting that PACO – which is the largest Latino organization in the city – was not asked to be part of the board. “Is this because PACO is pro-police?”
Solomon, however, said the board he envisioned is not anti-police, but is designed to build trust between the community and law enforcement. In his presentation, Solomon said the idea is to create a permanent body to review police department policies and procedures.
This must be a strong board to avoid the failures of CCRBs in other cities, Solomon said. These failures have been attributed to boards that are too closely aligned with the administration and have funding that can be taken away if the review board comes up with recommendations that are not politically popular, he added.
While Solomon admitted Jersey City did not have many of the problems perceived to be taking place in other cities around the country, there are serious issues, he noted, including the expenditure of over $1 million in 2020 on legal fees and settlements for alleged police misconduct. He also noted that of the 206 use of force complaints reported to internal affairs between 2013 and 2019, only two were deemed valid.
Both council members met with community leaders to draft their plans, they said, and also shared them with police union officials. Solomon added that his proposal also came partly based on the core demands of what he said were “thousands” of Black Lives Matter protestors in Jersey City, as well as a community forum he held in August to discuss the board.
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