N.J. is one of the last states to license police. Will it stop misconduct?

Published: Sep. 14, 2022

By the time the 31-year-old South Jersey cop pepper-sprayed a teenager in the face, the officer had already moved from one New Jersey town to another, landing in Woodlyne, where he later pleaded guilty to assaulting the teen.

It was his ninth police department in a career that spanned less than a decade.

The case of Officer Ryan Dubiel, who was convicted last year of the unprovoked attack on the teen in 2020, cast in stark relief how New Jersey’s police oversight system allowed problem cops to move from department to department, criminal justice experts said.

Dubiel, who was sentenced to probation and banned from public employment, did not respond to messages seeking comment. After video of the assault went viral, leaders at several of the cop’s former departments said they weren’t aware he had been fired or faced discipline elsewhere when they hired him.

Now New Jersey officials are setting up a statewide police licensing system to standardize how cops are trained and prevent them from staying on the force if they commit crimes, drive drunk or are accused of domestic violence, among other misconduct. It will also flag officers who were kicked off one department to prevent a cop from going to another department.

A bill Gov. Phil Murphy signed in July beefs up the state Police Training Commission and gives the agency a year and a half to roll out new training requirements and a process to decertify bad officers, allocating $6 million to the effort. It was supported by civil rights groups, who said it will help hold police accountable, and the state’s major police unions, who said it would improve fairness in hiring and weed out officers who tarnish the badge.

Legal experts told NJ Advance Media that New Jersey’s belated effort is a step in the right direction — but one that stitches the Garden State into a patchwork oversight network that relies on volunteer disclosures and due diligence some local departments don’t perform.

“The idea that we have a system that trains officers, makes sure they meet certain standards and if they fall from those standards keeps them from the profession is more theory than practice,” said Dan Bodah, a doctoral student at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former investigator for New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, referring to the situation nationally.

“There’s a lot of work to do to turn that into a functioning system.”


New Jersey was one of the last states in the nation to require police licensing. About 45 other states have some form of licensing and decertification system in place.

“The public expects the police officer to have certain skills, training, to meet certain standards,” said Mike Becar, the head of the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training. “A license or certification ensures they meet those standards.”

Announcing plans to create one, Murphy — a Democrat who has signed measured police reforms but has generally enjoyed the support of police unions — said the “silver lining” of being late to the game was “we get to model our process for licensing law enforcement based on all of the other models out there.”

A spokesman for acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin said state officials closely examined the systems in eight states — Georgia, Connecticut, Delaware, California, Michigan, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Florida — in order to create a system Platkin hailed as a “national model.”

“Several of New Jersey’s new requirements and restrictions are improved versions of existing rules in the states that were studied, including mandating continuing education for officers,” said the spokesman, Daniel Prochilo.

Other areas where New Jersey goes further than other states include “barring the granting of licenses to subjects of domestic violence restraining orders, members of hate groups and extremist organizations, and those who exhibit racial or other biases in their social media activity that would undermine law enforcement’s ability to pursue the mission of public safety,” he said.

Under the new law, officers are required to pass a psychological examination and continue to take training courses throughout their career to remain licensed. The new system disallows giving a license to a police applicant who has a criminal history or a history of acts of domestic violence, as well as some misdemeanors “involving dishonesty, fraud, or a lack of good moral character.”

Officials said the details of the new system were hammered out by a coalition of law enforcement officers, community leaders and civil rights advocates.

Joe Johnson, policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said the administration and state lawmakers who sponsored the bill were receptive to key changes to the initial bill, including a provision requiring the state report whenever they revoke a license to the National Decertification Index, a database police departments can check to see if an officer has had their license revoked for misconduct in other jurisdictions.

“It’s a pretty big step, but this is really just a first step,” said Johnson. “They’re going to have a decent amount of work to do in the next 18 months to get a schema in place that makes sense.”

The ACLU and other police reform advocates have been calling on Murphy to support long-stalled measures giving more power to local civilian review boards, requiring the public disclosure of police internal affairs records and ending the legal doctrine of qualified immunity, which can protect officers found guilty of misconduct from lawsuits and other sanctions.


Experts say, going forward, New Jersey’s system will do two key things: Ensure a police officer’s disciplinary history follows them from one job to another and prevent a cop whose license is revoked in one town from omitting it from their resume and getting a job someplace else.

If such a system were already in place, a police officer like Dubiel — the Woodlyne cop who worked in nine departments in fewer than 10 years — would likely have been flagged and decertified sooner, they note.

But like most reforms, how effective the new system will be comes down to whether local departments follow the rules and submit the proper paperwork.

“It’s unclear how many cases that qualify for decertification are reported to the certifying authorities by departments,” said Bodah, the John Jay researcher who spent years investigating civilian misconduct complaints. “Officers may be convicted of a crime or an act that qualifies them for decertification and the certifying authority may never become aware of that.”

Becar, whose group oversees the National Decertification Index, said the database was created in the late 1990s to address the issue of “wandering cops” who are booted from one jurisdiction only to show up in another. More than two decades later, the database — which is accessible only to qualified law enforcement — is the best available resource for de-licensed officers, but relies on individual states to share their data.

“The states are all over the board on what they decertify for,” said Becar. “There’s no real standards.”

Going forward, New Jersey faces the task of staffing up the Police Training Commission, which will oversee the new system. The commission is made up mostly of law enforcement members, but the new law increases the number of civilian members from two to four.

Currently, the board has just one civilian member, because Murphy’s administration has not nominated anyone for more than three years.


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published this page in News and Politics 2022-09-15 04:10:49 -0700