The state attorney general can now release the names of disciplined police officers, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division ruled this morning.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Responding to state and national demands for accountability and reform of law enforcement following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced in June that would end New Jersey’s decades-long practice of shielding the identities of law enforcement officers receiving major discipline for misconduct,” Appellate Judges Mitchell Ostrer, Allison Accurso, and Francis Vernoia decided today.
They continued that Grewal issued directives that required police discipline records to be released by June 15th as a way to improve public transparency.
That led to 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 filing a lawsuit to halt this action.
In the lengthy, 64-page decision, the appellate court says that Grewal acted within his legal authority.
” … We conclude the Attorney General acted within the authority conferred on him by
the Legislature in the Law and Public Safety Act of 1948, the Criminal Justice Act of 1970, and N.J.S.A. 40A:14-181 in issuing Directives 2020-5 and 2020-6, and they therefore withstand petitioners’ facial challenge,” the ruling says.
“We do not pass on the wisdom of the policy embodied in these Directives, which appellants assail as an imprudent overreaction to recent events that will needlessly shame officers, put their safety and that of their families at risk, disclose sensitive medical information and possibly identify the victims of domestic violence.”
Additionally, the AG’s directives remains on stay for five more days in the event that any of the police unions decide they want to appeal the decision.
Nevertheless, Grewal applauded the decision as “a new day for police transparency and accountability” and that the time has come to stop protecting officers that have been detrimental to their departments.
“Today’s decision marks a new day for police transparency and accountability in New Jersey. As I’ve said all along, the vast majority of law enforcement officers do great work and adhere to the high standards we set for them. So when officers fall short, we need to take those infractions seriously and we need to be candid with the public,” he said in a statement.
“That’s why I ordered every single law enforcement agency in New Jersey to start publishing information about their officers who commit especially egregious violations by the end of this year … It is time to stop protecting the few to the detriment of the many, and it is time to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”
Jersey City POBA President Carmine Disbrow said that the unions involved in this case haven’t decided what their next move is yet.
“The JCPOBA, along with the other police unions in the state, are considering their options when it comes to this decision and protecting their member’s rights.”
Additionally, the state chapter of the ACLU, who represented two different organizations in a friend-of-the-court brief in support of disclosing police discipline records, also hailed the decision, though noted that this should only be the first step in police transparency.
“There is no legitimate reason to limit transparency regarding police disciplinary records, with lives at stake, and today’s appellate ruling strengthens our ability to hold police accountable by shedding light on law enforcement,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero.
“But today’s decision also underscores the urgent need for permanent legislation that provides the public with all the information needed to hold police departments accountable for misconduct. We call on legislative leaders to hold hearings as quickly as possible on S-2656 and move it through the Legislature.”
The legislation, sponsored by state Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-37), would allow police disciplinary files to be classified as public records.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association President Carmine Disbrow.