By: Najla Alexander
Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today reported a policy was issued that significantly increases annual public disclosure of serious misconduct by New Jersey law enforcement officers., according to NJ AG officials.
Officials say this action builds upon a 2020 Attorney General directive that required agencies to report synopses of any “major discipline” issued each year—termination, demotion, or suspension of more than five days.
Today’s policy adds the following categories of discipline to the annual release, regardless of the discipline imposed:
Discrimination or bias. Excessive force.
Untruthfulness or lack of candor.
Filing a false report or submitting a false certification in any criminal, administrative, employment, financial, or insurance matter in their professional or personal life.
Intentionally conducting an improper search, seizure, or arrest.
Intentionally mishandling or destroying evidence.
Under the directive, by January 31 of each year, law enforcement agencies will report to the Attorney General and publish on their public website a brief synopsis of misconduct falling within the enumerated categories and the name of the officer involved, according to officials.
The directive requires that the synopsis provide sufficient detail to enable a reader unfamiliar with the case to fully understand the factual scenario that resulted in the disciplinary action, officials report.
Reflecting these same transparency interests, a recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision, Rivera v. Union County Prosecutor’s Office, 250 N.J. 124 (2022), requires that a range of internal affairs reports may be publicly accessible under the common law right of access upon request.
Officials say the directive lays out a framework to improve the efficiency of agency responses to requests for internal affairs records under the common law right of access—avoiding the need for burdensome litigation on all sides.
Specifically, upon request by a member of the public or the press, if an incident falls within one of the enumerated categories discussed above, agencies will disclose a summary and conclusions report that sets forth a summary of the allegations, a summary of the factual findings, and the final discipline that was imposed, according to officials.
“Transparency is fundamental to ensuring confidence in the work of law enforcement,” said Attorney General Platkin.
“These disclosures of police internal affairs information are an unprecedented step in promoting that transparency and a continuation of our efforts with respect to greater accountability and professionalism. The relationships between law enforcement and community members will be better served by making this information publicly available.”
“The Attorney General’s directive issued today reflects careful and balanced policymaking, and the end result serves a variety of important interests, including improving transparency and avoiding burdens on law enforcement agencies receiving public records requests,” said Thomas J. Eicher, Executive Director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.
“Public support for law enforcement is essential, and an effective, transparent internal affairs process is vital to that support.”
“The New Jersey State Police is committed to incorporating practices that foster transparency and accountability in order to build trust within the communities we serve,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.
“We have an established system with multiple layers of oversight meant to identify potentially deficient patrol practices or behaviors. Under Attorney General Platkin’s expanded directive, the public will now have additional insight into the process that holds our troopers to the highest standards.”
The directive is available online at: https://www.njoag.gov/resources/ag-directives/.
Previous disclosures of law enforcement disciplinary information are available at njoag.gov/majordiscipline.
This latest effort by Attorney General Platkin to provide greater transparency to the public comes after his office in September made a variety of de-identified Internal Affairs information readily available online through a new dashboard of internal affairs statistics searchable by law enforcement agency, the alleged infractions involved, and the disciplinary action is taken.