TRENTON, NJ - An appeals court has ruled that New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal can release the names of all law enforcement officers who have received major professional discipline in the state, a plan that was announced this past summer following widespread national protests for police reform and social justice after the death of George Floyd. The court decided that the Attorney General can resume his directives of amending statewide rules for internal investigation within police departments and imposing additional requirements for law enforcement agencies.
Countering the AG’s directive, multiple New Jersey police unions petitioned against the decision. According to the appeal, 36,000 active and retired law enforcement officers contended the Attorney General’s decision, arguing this was in violation of an executive order which protects the personal records of public employees.
After reviewing the directives and hearing oral arguments from activists, the court ruled that Grewal was acting within his authority to release the names of disciplined officers and change internal investigation policies.
“The erosion of confidence in our law enforcement agencies is a serious problem, and it is enough that the Attorney General, New Jersey's chief law enforcement officer tasked with the general supervision of criminal justice in our state, has determined that publishing the names of officers incurring major discipline for misconduct will increase public trust in those agencies and make them more accountable to the communities they serve,” the appeal court’s decision reads.
The first directive requires the public disclosure of the identity of officers who have committed serious disciplinary violations. The identity of any officer who was terminated, reduced in rank, or suspended for more than five days shall be made public on all police department websites. Department’s will also provide a summary of the transgressions that lead to police being reprimanded. The first reports will be available by December 31st, 2020.
The second directive requires the disclosure of any officer who has committed any serious misconduct since the year 2000. According to the AG, this disclosure is to improve the culture of accountability in law enforcement agencies and to identify any police unit with a history of misconduct.
"Today’s decision marks a new day for police transparency and accountability in New Jersey,” Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a press release, “It is time to stop protecting the few to the detriment of the many, and it is time to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve."
In response to this ruling, the New Jersey State PBA issued the following statement:
"We remain disappointed that this issue is being fought in the courts, especially since we have consistently said that we are willing to work with the Attorney General towards a fair resolution.
The ruling today that supports the Attorney General’s decree is yet another attack against the good men and women in law enforcement serving communities honorably throughout New Jersey.
The Attorney General should know that there is very little benefit to publicly shaming law enforcement officers past and present. While we do not oppose releasing information on officers who violate the public trust or the civil rights of our citizens, “major discipline” in this decree is often a compilation of minor events or departmental rule infractions that led to a suspension of more than five days. Unfortunately, this type of discipline varies wildly from Department to Department. This document dump therefore is misleading the public about officer behavior, and we believe the only outcome will be to discredit all law enforcement.
We will not protect bad actors who violate the public trust and the civil rights of our citizens, but the Attorney General’s decree being moved through the courts is sacrificing individual fairness for a political soundbite. We believe there are much better solutions to address officer misconduct, and we find it to be stunning that the Attorney General refused our outreach to implement them and even more puzzling that he hasn’t given his own programs on training, officer intervention programs and resiliency a chance to prove they can work."