ACLU-NJ Celebrates New Chapter in Police Accountability

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
August 27, 2009 12:00 am

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The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey celebrated a turning point today for New Jersey’s police with Governor Jon Corzine’s signing of the Law Enforcement Professional Standards Act of 2009, making monitoring of the State Police permanent, with oversight conducted by the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General. The organization has long fought to make such legislation a reality.

“This law marks a milestone that was ten years in the making, and is a huge victory for everyone in New Jersey,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “However, the State Police only accounts for a fraction of the state’s police officers. We now must focus on bringing the same level of accountability to every police department in New Jersey.”

The ACLU-NJ has worked toward monitoring of the state police for a decade, beginning with its lawsuit on behalf of numerous victims of racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike. Yet, years later, racial profiling remains a concern on the southern end of the Turnpike, where 30 percent of people stopped are African American, compared to the 20 percent in the north, as the ACLU-NJ testified to the legislature this spring. Under the federal consent decree in effect since 2000, monitors only checked whether a driver who was pulled over was breaking the law, rather than viewing the overall pattern of stops, including whether African Americans are stopped at disproportionately higher rates.

With an independent state monitor of the State Police in place, the ACLU-NJ will shift its focus to New Jersey’s over-500 local police departments. This spring the ACLU-NJ released the results of a survey – The Crisis Inside Police Internal Affairs (1.2mb PDF) – investigating nearly every department’s practices for taking complaints against officers. The report revealed that it was difficult to even file a complaint, and almost impossible to receive correct information or a just resolution.

The problems with police are compounded by New Jersey’s status as one of the only states without licensing for police officers. Licensing protects communities against problematic police officers who can escape discipline by simply moving departments.

“New Jersey stands at a monumental crossroads with the passage of this law,” Barocas said. “We can see how far we’ve come, but at the same time we can see how much further we need to go. Most police officers perform their difficult jobs with great integrity. Laws like the one signed today can protect the good reputations almost all police officers deserve, as well as the safety of our communities, by identifying the officers who soil their good names.”

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