Feds Launch Civil Rights Investigation into Trenton, NJ, Police Department
TRENTON — Complaints that Trenton police officers are resorting to the use of force and arresting people for no good reason are fueling a civil rights investigation into the city's police department, federal authorities say.
The investigation announced on Tuesday is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for New Jersey and the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. They will focus on whether there have been any systemic violations of the Constitution and federal law, officials said.
Federal investigators will look into officers' actions interacting with the public including use of force and stops, searches, and arrests. They'll also analyze the department's policies, training, supervision, and other protocols.
U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger for the District of New Jersey said that most police officers serve with "honor and distinction" but that there have been complaints from Trenton residents.
"Unfortunately, we have reviewed numerous reports that Trenton police officers may have used force inappropriately and conducted stops, searches, and arrests with no good reason in violation of individuals’ constitutional rights. Today’s announcement reflects our office’s commitment to ensuring effective, constitutional policing in Trenton and throughout New Jersey," Sellinger said.
Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora said in a statement he was informed about the investigation on Tuesday morning. Gusciora said police have seized over 200 illegal firearms and taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in drugs off the streets in recent months.
"We thank and support the overwhelming majority of officers at the city, county, and state level who do the right things every day to keep Trentonians safe," Gusciora said.
"But we also recognize that the community’s trust in our police force is critical. If any members of law enforcement violate the public trust or act in contravention of our state and federal laws, they should and must be held accountable."
Trenton police struggle to do "more with less"
The New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association and Trenton PBA Local 11 released a joint statement responding to the investigation to "provide clarity" about the challenges that the city's officers face.
The PBA groups pointed to a decaying Trenton police headquarters, problems retaining officers, and staffing levels that have persisted since the department lost 105 officers, or a third of its police force, in 2012 due to budget cuts.
"Despite these challenging circumstances, our officers have consistently demonstrated commitment, always doing more with less," the statement said. It cited a drop in homicides throughout the city; there were 40 homicides each year in 2020 and 2021, then 22 killings in 2022.
"We understand and respect the purpose of the Department of Justice's investigation. However, we hope that this inquiry will also shed light on the pressing need for additional resources and support for our officers."
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