New Jersey announces law enforcement reforms in wake of protests against police brutality

 06/02/2020 

Politico

Lt. Zack James of the Camden County Metro Police Department marches along with demonstrators in Camden, N.J., to protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 

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New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Tuesday announced several initiatives designed to increase trust between police and the communities they serve, including an expansion of the state‘s use-of-force database and a proposed licensing program for law enforcement.

The measures, detailed during Gov. Phil Murphy’s daily briefing in Trenton, come as residents in New Jersey and across the country take to the streets to protest police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis after an officer pinned him down with his knee until he stopped breathing.

“The pain and fatigue felt by many in our black and brown communities is real and it is palpable,” Murphy said. “It is the pain and fatigue of decades, generations — at this point, centuries — of inequality and systemic racism. It is pain that has eroded the ties that bind some of our communities and the men and women whose sworn duty it is to protect them.”

As part of restoring those ties, Grewal outlined steps the state will take as part of the “Excellence in Policing” initiative launched late last year to foster increased accountability, transparency and professionalism in law enforcement.

One of the steps will be to expand the state’s use-of-force database, adding police departments that don’t yet have access by July 1.

By the end of the year, New Jersey will use information from the database to update its use-of-force policies for the first time in two decades to “reflect the values of today,” Grewal said.

The state will also launch a pilot program in Paterson, Trenton, Atlantic City and Millville to expand crisis intervention team training, in which law enforcement partners with mental health professionals to more safely respond to crises involving mental health.

Plus, New Jersey will establish an incident response team to “serve a vital role in defusing tensions and healing a community after a moment of collective trauma,” Grewal said. The team, which will exist within the Division of Civil Rights, will deploy to areas following major civil rights incidents.

Grewal also requested that the Police Training Commission implement a statewide licensing program for all law enforcement.

“Just as we license doctors, nurses, lawyers … we must ensure that all officers meet a baseline level of professionalism,” Grewal said, adding that those who don’t meet the standard cannot work in New Jersey.

The latest updates on law enforcement reforms come amid protests held across the country since last week’s arrest and subsequent death of Floyd. A bystander’s video of Floyd’s encounter with Minneapolis police officers, which sparked national outrage, showed one of the officers, Derek Chauvin, holding his knee on Floyd’s neck as he repeatedly pleads for air. Floyd eventually becomes motionless and is put onto a gurney by paramedics.

Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder. Three other officers involved in the incident have been fired, but not charged.

“Mr. Floyd’s death reminds us that our country has a long way to go, not only in healing our country’s racial divides, but also in addressing the systemic and implicit biases that affect all Americans,” Grewal said. “To the thousands of New Jerseyans who assembled peacefully this week … we share your anger and we share your commitment to change.”

While some cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., have seen demonstrations turn violent, with attacks on officers and widespread looting, protests in New Jersey — especially in Newark and Camden Monday night — remained mostly peaceful and without incident.

Downtown Trenton saw vandalism, looting and attacks on police Monday, and protests in Asbury Park became chaotic, as well. Overall, 12 people were arrested Monday night, State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan said during Tuesday‘s briefing, but it was not clear whether that total included the arrest of an Asbury Park Press reporter, the charges against whom were later dropped.

Nearly two dozen protests are planned across the state on Tuesday.

“We respect completely the folks who want to protest peacefully,” Murphy said. “Let’s keep it that way.”

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