The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the state Attorney General’s Office, allowing him to follow through on a directive to release the names of disciplined police officers – with the caveat being from June 2020 forward pending an additional hearing.
“For major discipline imposed after the Attorney General issued the Directives, officers can expect that their identities will be released to the public. They may challenge disciplinary
findings in the ordinary course,” the court ruled in a 60-page decision this morning.
“That process can vary based on the agency involved and the jurisdiction in which it operates.”
Furthermore, the state’s highest court ruled that Attorney General Gurbir Grewal had the authority to issue the directives, which are “consistent with legislative policies,” though also explains that one aspect needs to be evaluated further.
Since the directives sought to release the names of disciplined officers for the past 20 years, a superior court judge will need to hear testimony on the matter.
“Officers subjected to major discipline for the past twenty years say they were promised that their names would not be released, and that they relied on that promise in resolving disciplinary accusations,” the decision says.
“In essence, they ask the State to stand by promises they claim were made throughout the prior twenty years. To resolve that serious issue, a judge will need to hear and evaluate testimony and decide if the elements of the doctrine of promissory estoppel have been met for disciplinary matters settled before the Directives were announced.”
The New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the State Troopers Fraternal Association (STFA), the STFA NCO Association, the STFA Superior Officers Association, the NJ Fraternal Order of Police, and the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association filed a lawsuit to challenge the directives, but they lost in appellate court.
Jersey City POBA President Joe Cossolini said that the union is in the process of reviewing the decision and is awaiting direction from the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and Jersey City law enforcement executives to see how it would apply to their department.
“We hope to participate in the process of formulating that policy,” he added.
CJ Griffin, who argued the cause for amici curiae National Coalition of Latino Officers and Law Enforcement Action Partnership, said that the victory doesn’t mean much if the state does not make internal affairs records public.
” … Today’s win in the Supreme Court provides only a teeny tiny sliver of transparency for officers who receive major discipline. Most complaints aren’t even sustained, let alone major discipline. Let’s pass #S2656 so police stop policing themselves in secret!,” she tweeted.
In a statement, Grewal lauded the decision as a major step for police transparency and said he was considering taking that a step further regarding the disclosure of disciplinary records.
” … Going forward, every police department in New Jersey will be required to annually publish the names of officers who were fired, demoted, or suspended for more than five days. By lifting the cloak of secrecy over our state’s police disciplinary process, we are not simply ensuring accountability for those who engage in misconduct; we are also demonstrating that the vast majority of law enforcement officers work hard and play by the rules,” he said.
” … The Court made clear that the Attorney General possesses broad authority to authorize the disclosure of police disciplinary records on a prospective basis and I am exploring additional steps that we can take to promote public trust.”
Conversely, New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Colligan called the ruling “both frustrating and disappointing” and took aim at Grewal.
“The NJSPBA does not and will not protect bad officers who violate the public trust and, yet, the 99.9% of good men and women serving in law enforcement continue to find themselves under attack,” Colligan stated.
“We continue to be disappointed in the attorney general’s ongoing refusal to meet with us to discuss fairness within police reform as well as his continuing attacks on law enforcement.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Colligan.