Jersey City officials are reacting, mostly showing disappointment, after the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling on Newark’s Civil Complaint Review Board, largely limiting their abilities to directly hold their police officers accountable.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“We appreciate that Newark values having a civilian body participating in the oversight of the police function. But the Legislature would have to act in order for the City to have the ability to confer subpoena power on its CCRB,” the court ruled this morning.
” …We note that the Council, of course, retains its own power to issue subpoenas to call a person before it and to obtain documents, unless they are otherwise made confidential by law. The Council may be motivated to exercise that power as a result of an oversight report from the CCRB about the performance of the IA function in Newark, viewed in its totality, as the Ordinance calls for.”
The Newark City Council passed an ordinance approved the creating of a CCRB on March 17th, 2016, however the city’s Fraternal Order of Police, specifically Newark Lodge No. 12, filed a complaint in Essex County Superior Court challenging the board’s ability to issue discipline.
While they won that case, the city appealed and the appellate division reversed some of the lower court’s findings, most notably allowing the CCRB to have subpoena power.
However, as noted above, the Supreme Court reversed that aspect of the ruling, and also said the CCRB cannot open an investigation into a matter already being pursued by the Newark Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit.
Nevertheless, the court indicates that the CCRB can perform more duties that the average civilian board.
“The CCRB has more than investigatory powers. The CCRB has been granted authority to perform various oversight functions. We agree with the Appellate Division, which upheld the Board’s roles in creating a disciplinary matrix to be used by the Public Safety Director and conducting oversight reviews and reporting periodically to the Public Safety Director and to the Council.”
Still, Mayor Steven Fulop was one of several who said the court’s opinion was a let down and hoped the matter could still be fixed via legislative action in Trenton.
“I’m disappointed with the State Supreme Court decision as ultimately we think there should always be a healthy check and balance between law enforcement and civilians,” he said.
“The next step is for Gov. Murphy and the state legislature to formally change the law and allow review boards so that this decision is not left to the courts.”
Ward E Councilman James Solomon, who has drafted legislation for a Jersey City CCRB, expressed a similar sentiment, noting that now is the time for Trenton lawmakers “to take bold action.”
“The Court’s ruling is disappointing. It significantly weakens Newark’s CCRB, harming it’s ability to establish trust between citizens and their police force. Jersey City’s response should be two-fold,” he began.
“First, we can continue our work to put the framework in place for a strong CCRB. Simultaneously, we should partner with allies such as Assemblywoman McKnight in Trenton to pass enabling legislation to authorize strong CCRBs statewide. We cannot let this moment pass.”
Additionally, the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement and Jersey City Together, who are co-hosting a Zoom call this evening to advocate for a local CCRB, also expressed dismay over the ruling, noting that they been lobbying state legislators since June on this matter.
“Now is the time for our legislators to act. Assemblywoman McKnight should amend her bill now to ensure that this is possible.”
McKnight introduced a measure on June 8th that proposed the creation of CCRB’s in each municipality in New Jersey.
“If municipalities decide its [sic] necessary to create a Civilian Review Board, then subpoena power has to be an option on the table. We will continue to work on legislation that will support communities in their endeavors,” the assemblywoman wrote on Facebook.
This evening’s Zoom call, which is scheduled to run from 6:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m., can be accessed here.