The Jersey City Police Department filed 608 use-of-force reports last year, an increase of nearly 229 percent from 2018, according to data obtained by Hudson County View.
According to records obtained through an Open Public Records Act request — which took over seven months to fulfill — officers with the JCPD used force 608 times in 2019: a dramatic increase from 2018’s 266 reported incidents of force that is an anomaly when compared to data compiled from five other years of the past decade.
Based on NJ Advance Media’s use-of-force database published in 2018, Jersey City’s number of use of force reports hovered around 200 between 2012 and 2016.
While data was not available for 2017, NJ Advance Media’s reporting shows that the JCPD used force 266 times in 2016; 202 times in 2015; and 219 times in 2014.
The state Attorney General’s Office requires police officers to report anything that could be considered an aggressive maneuver, including every compliance hold, kick, punch or fired weapon – as well as the use of batons and tasers – among other actions.
In 2018, experts described the city’s use of force rate to NJ Advance Media as “remarkably low.”
Today, city spokeswoman Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said that they “anticipated a significant increase” as a result of the city police department “implementing stricter reporting guidelines coupled with a broader definition of what constitutes force.”
She said that under Police Chief Michael Kelly, who took over the post in January 2018, three policies were implemented that inevitably led to inflated numbers for the sake of more transparency and increasing public safety.
“First, every officer department-wide was retrained on the stricter definitions and expanded reporting requirements which broadened to include any incident where physical contact is made – even if an officer is peacefully assisting an emotionally disturbed person into an ambulance, for example,” she said.
Secondly, Wallace-Scalcione indicated that the use-of-force reports are now filed online, making them “easier to track and review.”
And, lastly, sergeants are now required to report to all arrest scenes, “which generates more oversight to ensure force reports are being accurately filed and are no longer under the officers’ discretion,” the city official concluded.
The issue of police use of force has seen renewed attention in the past month after George Floyd, a black man, was killed by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, in Minneapolis on May 25th.
Floyd’s killing set off a wave of national protests in dozens of states that have been ongoing for more than three weeks now.
Last year’s data now places Jersey City, the second largest city in New Jersey behind Newark, among the municipalities with the highest number of incidents of force, based on NJAM’s use-of-force database.
Camden had the highest single year number of use of force in 2014 with 845, the database shows. In 2014, Atlantic City recorded 529 uses of force, which then dropped to 316 in 2016. And Newark recorded 575 uses of force in 2016, according to database records, with a high of 607 in 2013.
The rallies and protests in the community have culminated into residents calling on the city to reprioritize the city budget by taking funds away from the city’s police department and public safety office and reallocating it towards social services.
This initiative has been commonly referred to as “defunding the police” by activists and citizens across the country.
The city’s police budget is around $112 million, nearly 20 percent of the 2020 municipal budget and 43 percent of the city’s salary budget. The entire spending plan for Jersey City is estimated to be around $612 million.
Based on current budget data, the city has budgeted $109.9 million, or 43 percent of the city’s $258 million for city salaries, for their police department.
Local elected officials, meanwhile, have put forth different ways to rein in police brutality and hold officers accountable.
Council President Joyce Watterman sponsored a resolution during the June 10th council meeting to form an ad hoc committee to review the Jersey City Police Department’s policies and procedures that would consist of nine to 12 members.
Ward E Councilman James Solomon, meanwhile, has called the current budget — and its allocation toward police salaries — “unacceptable,” which prompted a sharp response from Fulop, who said the councilman was “heavy on platitudes … but light on substance.”
Earlier this month, Fulop touted the JCPD’s changes to use of force orders after President Barack Obama (D) called on mayors across the country to pledge to reform their police departments.
In a statement, Wallace-Scalcione stated that the city was “first to designate an Internal Affairs Sergeant who has a dual role as a Force Analyst and an Early Warning System Coordinator.”
“The Sergeant reviews every single use-of-force report and analyzes daily general reports filed to ensure force reports are filed when warranted,” she added.
Follow Corey McDonald on Twitter @cwmcdonald_