After reviewing survey results from September, the Hoboken Policing Policy Task Force has made several recommendations to the police department that include reviewing the creation of a civilian complaint review board.
Created as an 11-member group by Mayor Ravi Bhalla in June, the recommendations were submitted to mayor’s office and Police Chief Kenneth Ferrante on March 11th.
Three of the 11 slides they prepared review the community survey results from September – also reposted twice in October – that asked residents if they would support the implementation of a police review board, commonly referred to as a CCRB.
“A majority of respondents (74%) feel it would be a good idea for the City of Hoboken to institute a Public Safety Review Board to provide oversight of hiring practices and complaints,” the task force noted, indicating that 2,066 people responded and almost all (99 percent) were city residents.
Additionally feedback from the task force revealed that 40 percent of comments “addressed a negative experience and advocated for reform,” 36 percent of comments “were supportive or described a positive interaction” with the HPD, while 24 percent of comments suggestions specific improvements but didn’t call for a review board.
Specific criticisms included officers not wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic and spending too much time patrolling from their squad car – as opposed to patrolling on foot.
Conversely, survey respondents gave “significant praise” for the department’s professionalism and accessibility, citing event such as Coffee with a Cop, as well as appreciating the chief’s regular updates on Twitter.
In a detailed response, Ferrante addressed the survey results and the task force’s corresponding recommendations.
“This survey was taken in the Fall of 2020. I felt most civilians, having watched the protests against excessive force in wake of the death of George Floyd, along with several other highly volatile situations involving bad policing that were all over mainstream media and social media, would answer that question as wanting Civilian Review Boards,” he began.
“There are several things that need to be looked at: 1) What the NJ Supreme Court decides on the authority of these boards, 2) Would there be another change of the Attorney General Guidelines on Internal Affairs, 3) who would qualify for these positions, who would be making the appointments, and who does a background check on them, and 4) what ultimate authority would these boards have.”
An August decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court stripped Newark’s CCRB of subpoena power, though opened the door for the state legislatures to introduce a bill that defines the parameters of a CCRB.
Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31) is the primary sponsor is that legislation, which cleared the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee earlier this month.
In neighboring Jersey City, the city council has attempted to introduce an ordinance that would have “a trigger mechanism” that would enact their CCRB once McKnight’s bill becomes a law, put their local police unions have delayed that effort.
Additionally, Ferrante pushed back on the notion that the department does not take wearing masks seriously.
“We have a strong policy on that [mask wearing] and we took every complaint and reviewed them and then counseled the officer on that, showing them the pictures or videos that were sent to us .We needed to be reasonable but firm at the same time towards these officers who went above and beyond during this long lasting pandemic,” he explained.
He also discussed why he thinks the department is up date when it comes to policing in patrol cars versus patrolling on foot.
“The culture of policing in the 2010s and 2020’s [which includes] large weapons and ammunition to be prepared for terrorism or mass shooting events, the carrying of medical bags, the carrying of Narcan kits, carrying water rescue equipment and having 130 officers to deploy compared to 185 some 15-20 yrs ago dictates the need for patrol vehicles,” Ferrante said.
“Walking patrols are used in designated areas at key times based crime and quality of life data. We have officers in the housing authority daily walking around the area, we also utilize high visibility patrols on weekends and at problems spots, when most of those who answer the surveys are probably sleeping (i.e. 12am thru 4am).”
He also pointed out that most survey respondents indicated that policing has had the most negative connotation in the past year that the profession has had in about the past three decades.
The task force also called for the “other dispute” option on use-of-force reports to have more detail, implementing mandatory de-escalation training for all officers, and creating a new hybrid unit that utilizes social workers, medical personnel, and police.
According to the Hoboken PD’s Internal Affairs Unit report for 2020, just four excessive force complaints were filed last year and three are already closed, with no cases lingering from 2019.