Trump won't crack down on rogue cops. But N.J. should | Editorial

Posted Feb 11, 2018

Remember when President Trump told an audience of cops to be "rough" on suspects when tossing them into "paddy wagons"?
 
Here's what that actually looks like in practice: A hate crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
 
The longtime police chief of Bordentown, a mostly-white suburb of Trenton, made national news after he reportedly slammed the head of a black teenager into a doorjam during a 2016 arrest - an assault driven by racial animus, the feds said.

The only reason Frank Nucera got caught: A good cop surreptitiously recorded his chief's racist remarks about black people, including that we should "line them all up and mow 'em down."
 
It's a reminder of why it's so important to protect the whistleblowers and toss the bad apples. That's even more essential now, after Trump's Justice Department announced it will no longer audit local police departments for civil rights abuses.
 
New Jersey's new Attorney General needs to step into this void, and look at how to better supervise police behavior. A two-year reporting project by the Asbury Park Press details the many ways that faulty, secretive investigations of bad cops put us all at risk.
 
Above all, it's a failure of leadership. In his final days in office, Gov. Christie vetoed a sensible bill that would have required any deaths involving police officers to be investigated by the AG's office, not a local prosecutor with close ties to police.
 
Senate President Stephen Sweeney just re-introduced that legislation. This is something Gov. Phil Murphy needs to fix right away.

Lawmakers should also revive a languishing bill that would put oversight of the notoriously frat-boyish Edison police under the AG's office, and hold hearings about other gaps in oversight. For instance: In other states, an officer involved in an assault can lose his license even if he's not criminally prosecuted. Not so here.
 
New Jersey is one of only six states that doesn't empower a state agency to decertify police officers, the Press reports. We revoke licenses for nail salons; shouldn't the same be true of dangerous cops?
 
Too often, they stay under the radar because towns often prefer to minimize their liability by settling with an alleged victim - spending millions of taxpayer dollars, paid by municipal insurance pools that don't financially squeeze an individual city much at all.

The cop doesn't admit wrongdoing and stays on the job, or secures a promise from the town not to reveal anything to a new employer.
 
Of the 531 officers named in abuse lawsuits reviewed by the Press, at least 231 stayed on the force after this kind of settlement. Many others were allowed to resign, collectively walking away with at least $780,000 in payouts for unused sick and vacation days.
 
As a result, we have cops like Andrew Jaques, the subject of five internal affairs investigations in Atlantic City - one handled by his uncle - remaining on the force for a decade, even after being accused of losing his temper in traffic stops, abusing his girlfriend, bludgeoning a bicyclist and choking a restrained man unconscious. He retired on disability in August, at an annual salary of $101,620.
 
Or Philip Seidle, the police sergeant who shot his ex-wife to death in 2015; the Press had to sue Neptune in an effort to pry loose the 682-page, 20-year-long internal affairs file on him.
 
The people "most disgusted" by this are fellow cops, notes William Fitzpatrick, the acting U.S. Attorney who prosecuted Nucera. It makes their jobs much harder; much like Trump's casual trampling of community-cop relations. New Jersey owes it to its tens of thousands of good cops to fight back.

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