Five key reforms could transform policing in New Jersey, the ACLU-NJ said today with the release of a blueprint for statewide police accountability. The ACLU-NJ called on state officials to adopt five key components of accountability into law, emphasizing transparency, accountability, and an end to unnecessarily aggressive over-policing. The reforms also include a call to expand the role of non-police agencies and professionals in handling social problems that do not belong in the criminal justice system to begin with. The policies themselves would be adopted by state officials and apply to individual departments throughout the state.
“Together, these five policy reforms make up a blueprint for protecting the rights — and lives — of all people in our state,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Dianna Houenou. “With every new human tragedy that arises from unaccountable policing, we see the same common links: aggressive policing of Black communities and little accountability or oversight. Like the rest of the country, New Jersey faces an epidemic of aggressive enforcement and a drought of public accountability. In New Jersey, we aim to change that.”
The ACLU-NJ’s blueprint highlights five key statewide policy proposals that together would usher in a new era of accountability throughout the state:
- Independent prosecutors and investigations when officers kill or seriously injure people
- Body cameras for police, only with public access to the footage and privacy protections
- An end to policing of low-level offenses such as panhandling, disorderly conduct, and marijuana possession, and addressing such behaviors outside the police and criminal justice system, which aren’t equipped to handle the root social and/or economical causes of many low-level offenses
- Ending civil asset forfeiture seizures in which police unfairly take people’s property
- Transparency through the collection and public release of data from police departments
“Anything short of major statewide solutions for problems nearly every department in the state has will turn police reform into a game of whack-a-mole played with hundreds of Jersey police departments,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “The Legislature, Attorney General, and Governor all have work to do. Police departments can’t police themselves. New Jerseyans deserve police that will respect their rights, be transparent, and be held accountable when they engage in misconduct or abuse.”
The ACLU-NJ has found problems in departments statewide with over-aggressive, racially disparate enforcement of low-level offenses, and indicators of enforcement motivated by the potential profits from civil asset forfeiture. As New Jersey departments acquire body-worn cameras, the Attorney General’s rules for departments’ use of cameras deprive the public of the right to access footage, which renders the cameras as tools of management and surveillance rather than accountability.
A 2015 ACLU-NJ study of low-level offenses (PDF) found deep racial disparities in enforcement in four New Jersey cities and towns. The ACLU-NJ also found extremely poor data collection and transparency in the four municipal police departments studied. One department not included in the report kept such inadequate records that it made studying their practices impossible.
“All too often police officers are called upon to address behaviors that shouldn’t involve the police in the first place. And all too often these interactions escalate into serious instances of police violence, such as in the cases of Eric Garner and Philando Castile,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “New Jersey needs a new law enforcement paradigm where the police aren’t forced to deal with behaviors that should never involve the police in the first place. Forcing a criminal justice solution onto problems the police are not equipped to handle has resulted in uneven, unjust enforcement and the criminalization of poverty and mental illness. New Jersey is capable of change, and now is the time to do it.”
Read the blueprint online:
One-page version (PDF)
Deeper analysis of the policies New Jersey needs to transform the police (PDF)