The Internal Affairs Units of Hudson County law enforcement agencies disciplined 36 police officers last year, which includes three terminations from one department, according to copies of each IAU’s annual summary reports.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
The Bayonne, Harrison, Kearny, Stevens Institute of Technology, Weehawken, and West New York Police Departments, as well as the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, did not issue any major discipline of 10 days or more, according to their respective annual IAU Summary Reports obtained through Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests.
Furthermore, the East Newark Police Department suspended one officer for 10 days “for violation of chain of command and for abandoning his post,” while the Secaucus Police Department suspended an officer for 10 days for repeatedly being late for duty.
Along those lines, the North Bergen Police Department suspended two officers 10 days each for failing to supervise subordinates.
Meanwhile, the Hudson County Department of Corrections had a unique instance where an officer was suspended for 133 days after a bench warrant was issued for failure to appear on March 30th, 2020.
He was arrested on August 6th, 2019 in Sussex County for writing bad checks with a value of $2,000, according to their IAU summary.
The circumstances of the arrest have not been previously reported and the officer’s name can’t be disclosed by the department under state law since internal affairs records are private, which is the case for 19 other states across the country.
As for the Guttenberg Police Department, a sergeant was suspended with pay since February 2020 for failing to supervise and properly report an arrest that included use-of-force, according to an internal affairs memo from January 18th of this year.
In Hoboken, their IAU issued two suspensions last year: one for 45 days after an officer was arrested for DWI while off-duty and the other for 90 days for neglect of duty – indicating that the officer had employment outside of the department.
The departments that saw their IAUs issue the most discipline were Jersey City, the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office, and the Union City Police Department with 13, 11, and 4 documented incidents, respectively, according to their yearly reports.
For the JCPD, out of 135 complaints filed, their suspensions ranged from 10 days to 90 days, with three officers being fired.
Those three terminated were an officer who was convicted of official misconduct, another who presented a fraudulent doctor’s note to the medical unit, and finally one who was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office conspiracy and theft or bribery concerning programs related to federal funds.
Gicella Sanchez was the 12th Jersey City police officer to plead guilty to off-duty detail fraud back in September, about five months before Officer Denzel Suitt was convicted official misconduct – though the legitimacy of the case has been disputed recently.
Other notable incidents include an officer being suspended 10 days for using sick days to go on vacation, only to post pictures and videos of her dancing on social media, and a 30-day suspension being issues to an officer who “made an unwelcome advance” towards a female JCPD officer, the 2020 IAU report notes.
Additionally, the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office suspended three officers for 45 days, 75 days, and six months related to the accidental discharge of a weapon, with the officer who was suspended for six months also getting demoted.
They also suspended four officers for chronic absenteeism for 10, 30, 30, and 90 days, respectively.
Finally, with 77 IAU complaints filed in Union City, two suspensions were issued for 45 and 60 days due to conduct unbecoming to an employee and all four suspensions involved motor vehicle accidents.
The first one was related to an investigation that opened on August 28th, 2019 and a recorded interview last year indicated that the officer lied about the details.
The second involved an officer violating a sergeant’s order and taking his police vehicle to a walking post and striking a pedestrian, with an investigation revealing he was going over the speed limit and drove through a stop sign.
The third separate incident “resulted in severe injuries to a citizen and the officer,” which caused “excessive property damage” and totaled the police vehicle. An investigation determined that this officer also ran a stop sign while driving over the speed limit.
They were suspended for 10 days and requested a hearing, which is still pending. The fourth incident was nearly identical to this third one, as far as their IAU annual report shows.
” … Very few officers receive major discipline, which is why the Attorney General’s directive last year does not really disclose much,” began CJ Griffin, an attorney who has been pushing for the state legislature to pass Bill S-2656, which would make internal affairs records public.
“Most IA info will remain completely confidential and even with these, we do not get to see the actual files. Just their summary, which can be skewed or downplayed.”
Last year, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a directive that would allow the names of disciplined police officers to be released, which was upheld by the appellate court, but the state Supreme Court is yet to rule on the case.
Back on the local front, the Jersey City Council is one of a handful of governing bodies across the state that approved a resolution asking for the passage of Bill S-2656, though the bill is yet to be heard in either chamber yet.
Conversely, Bill A-5506 sponsored by Assembly members Angela McKnight (D-31), Raj Mukherji (D-33), and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-15) that would mandate municipal police departments to hold two community roundtables a year cleared the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee earlier today.
Richie Rivera, a private investigator that has fought for police transparency and accountability for decades – as well as the new Penns Grove police director – says the solution for internal affairs records should be simple.
“There should be more transparency so the public understands what this means, so they understand the gravity against the officers. The ones that are violating the rules and regulations should be held accountable.”
The AG’s office declined to comment on pending legislation, but pointed out that Grewal called for greater transparency in police disciplinary records during testimony in front of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee on July 15th, 2020.
“ … There’s one area where New Jersey lags behind the pack. We are one of a shrinking number of states where police disciplinary records remain shrouded in secrecy, virtually never seeing the light of day,” he said at the time.
“In recent months, I have come to recognize that our policy isn’t just bad for public trust, it’s bad for public safety. And it’s time for our policy to change … New Jersey’s extremely strict confidentiality is not an example of standard practice across the country. It makes us the outlier.”
The HCPO did not return an inquiry seeking comment.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s testimony from the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee last year.