New law says NJ police must now be licensed

TAYLOR JUNG | JULY 22, 2022

NJ Spotlight News

Gov. Phil Murphy announcing that New Jersey will join with more than 40 other states and require police to be licensed.

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Law enforcement officers will now be required to be licensed, as well as complete training and psychological evaluations to keep their licenses, under a bill Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Thursday.

A training commission will establish the minimum standards job applicants will need to meet in order to receive a license. Police officers will be required to have a license to work in the state, and they will also have to go through continued training and psychological examinations throughout their careers — just like many other professions, Murphy said at a news conference after signing the law.

“Should any officer act in a way that’s contrary to that oath, their license will be revoked,” Murphy said, adding that those officers could no longer work in New Jersey or potentially any other state.

Reasons for decertification

Police can lose their licenses — called “decertification” — if they are convicted of any crime, convicted of domestic violence, have two or more DUI offenses, exhibit discriminatory behavior online, as well as other infractions. Licenses can also be pulled if an officer participates in violent anti-government insurrections. Police across the country have been accused of posting hate speech on social media or participating in the January 6 insurrection.

The license bill passed with overwhelming support in both the Senate and Assembly in June. It appropriates $6 million in funding and brings New Jersey up to speed with over 40 other states with similar requirements for police. The law was the result of over 20 years of advocacy and about two years of legislative work across multiple state agencies and social justice organizations — and was championed by the state Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the state Fraternal Order of Police and other police groups.

“New Jersey will raise up the law enforcement profession,” Murphy said.

No more ‘bad apples’?

The new law was touted as a way to “enhance” the policing profession, as well as increase the public’s faith in law enforcement in a post-George Floyd America. Acting Attorney General Matt Platkin said that the new licensing requirements will establish trust by ensuring that “good” police will “not have their reputations unfairly tarnished by the indiscretions of a relative few,” alluding to the common pro-police metaphor that police misconduct only represents a “few bad apples” rather than the whole profession.

Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer, Middlesex), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the new licensing requirement stands alongside several other police reforms that have been enacted since 2020. These reforms now require police to wear body cameras, limit the use of deadly force and increase diversity on the force — although NJ Spotlight News analysis has shown that the latter has yet to happen.

Social justice advocates said that while the new law was the result of direct collaboration between them, law enforcement and legislators, they feel it falls short of what it could do.

When the police licensing bill was passed in June, Yannick Wood of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice told the New Jersey Monitor that he wished that licensing decisions were available online in an effort to increase transparency. Policy Director for Salvation of Social Justice Racquel Romans-Henry told the Asbury Park Press that the law doesn’t have penalties in place for police chiefs that “refuse to submit information” about police misconduct, and that the Police Training Commission needed more representatives from outside the law enforcement community to provide “viewpoint diversity.”

Executive Director of ACLU New Jersey Amol Sinha said at Thursday’s news conference that the licensing law was an important first step, but that the Legislature needed to bring the “same sense of urgency” to other police accountability laws, adding that “we’re one step closer to ensuring that the public can trust officers no longer engage in misconduct without impunity.”

He pointed to several bills — including ones that would create civilian complaint review boards with subpoena power to oversee police misconduct, end qualified immunity, ban the use of chokeholds and make police misconduct reports more readily available — as some important examples of police reform.

These are bills that ACLU NJ has worked alongside other organizations like the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, People’s Organization for Progress, Latino Action Network and dozens of others to champion. But they stalled in the Legislature over the past few years.

“Real progress is achievable when there’s political will and stakeholders willing to collaborate,” he said.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-07-22 02:21:25 -0700