After Shootings, NJ Attorney General Says it’s Tough to be a Cop These Days
The state’s top law enforcement official says it’s a tough time to be a cop, especially in an age when police actions are publicly scrutinized and “second-guessed.”
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal made the comments to a gathering of police officials Thursday morning, a day after a car of suspects opened fire on a Mercer County police officer in Trenton and days after two police assassination attempts by a gunman in The Bronx, which promoted NYPD union leaders to declare “war” on Mayor Bill DeBlasio and blame anti-police rhetoric amid recent demonstrations against police.
“It is so difficult right now, today, to be a law enforcement officer,” Grewal, a Democrat who served as the Bergen County prosecutor before joining the Murphy administration, told a breakfast gathering of state police chiefs.
“You run to danger despite the risk. You put yourselves in harm’s way despite the risks. And you do it in a moment where, like no other profession, everything you do is second-guessed,” he said.
“Every move you make is dissected. Video is taken out of context and you’re questioned why you didn’t do this thing or why didn’t she do this and why didn’t you act this way, when you don’t have that luxury to press pause when you’re out there doing your jobs.”
Grewal also has been sympathetic to community groups and advocates who’ve called for reforming police practices. In December, his office announced changes to how law enforcement agencies would investigate complaints against cops and use of force by officers — policies that he said at the time would promote “the culture of professionalism, accountability, and transparency” and show “the rest of the country how we can build police-community trust while also protecting public safety.”
Grewal's office has also made it easier for the public to scrutinize police actions, issuing a directive in 2018 that makes police bodycam and dashcam footage more accessible to the media following cases involving deadly use of force.
Grewal on Thursday highlighted the heroism of Hamilton Officer Jason Moulds, who was on duty in an unmarked vehicle as part of his assignment with the State Police Crime Suppression Central Unit Task Force when he encountered a shooting in progress about 2:17 p.m. Wednesday at West State Street and Parkside Avenue in Trenton.
“Rather than run from that danger, he ran to that danger. And he followed those individuals and they shot at him and he could have been killed and he persisted and he went after those individuals,” Grewal said.
Three suspects from Trenton — all ex-cons — have been charged with first-degree attempted murder, first-degree conspiracy and various weapons offenses.
Moulds followed the suspects’ vehicle to the Oakland Park Apartments on Coolidge Avenue, where the suspects shot at him, striking his car.
Yahonatan R. Salter, 28, was arrested outside while Dion Battle, 28, and Shaiquan A. Hearns, 20, were arrested inside the apartment of Tameka V. Flemming, 30.
Flemming was arrested as she tried to leave her apartment carrying two handguns in a backpack, State Police said. She was charged with second-degree handgun possession, third-degree hindering apprehension, fourth-degree obstruction and fourth-degree possession of large-capacity magazine.
The shooting of the officer in Trenton has not been described as a targeted attack, the kind that resulted in two officers being injured in what officials in New York said was two separate assassination attempts by the same man in a period of 12 hours.
Robert Williams, 45, was arrested Sunday after walking into a Bronx police station and opening fire. One cop was shot one in arm before the gunman ran out of ammunition.
Earlier, Williams had approached a police car and shot at two cops inside, wounding one, police said.
Williams, an ex-con who did time for shooting at cops after a carjacking in 2002, was charged with attempted murder.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said that anti-police rhetoric was “not unrelated” to the assassination attempts.
“We had people marching through the streets of New York City recently,” Shea said. “Words matter. And words affect people's behavior.”
Despite the police union attacks on DeBlasio, the Democratic mayor also said that anti-police rhetoric “creates this kind of dynamic” where police come under violent attack.
But the Sergeants Benevolent Association was having none of it.
“Mayor DeBlasio, the members of the NYPD are declaring war on you!” the union said on Twitter. “We do not respect you, DO NOT visit us in hospitals. You sold the NYPD to the vile creatures, the 1% who hate cops but vote for you. NYPD cops have been assassinated because of you. This isn’t over, Game on!"
In New Jersey, Grewal also has been dragged into the political fray, albeit without the verbal bomb throwing seen in the Big Apple.
The elected Republican sheriffs and freeholders of Cape May and Monmouth counties are challenging Grewal’s policies of limiting local law enforcement and county jail cooperation with federal immigration officials. The U.S. Justice Department last week filed its own lawsuit challenging the state’s Immigrant Trust Directive.
This week, Grewal acknowledged his political disagreement with Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden, saying “it’s possible to respect those who disagree with you.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.