Union Head: Here are the Problems With Releasing Names of Disciplined Cops
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal's plan to have all police departments divulge the names of officers who've committed serious disciplinary violations will result in good cops' names being taken out of context, and their violations misunderstood, according to the state's larges police union.
Pat Colligan, the president of the NJ State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said “serious disciplinary violation” is an arbitrary term.
"What may be major discipline or serious discipline in the city of Jersey City may not be in the town of Byram," Colligan said.
Agencies must publicly identify officers who were fired, demoted or suspended for more than five days because of a disciplinary violation, Grewal said Monday. The first lists must be published by Dec. 31.
But Colligan said the net effect is cops who've committed all sorts of violations will be lumped together.
"This is not always going to be an excessive use of force," he said. "This could be cracking up the third patrol vehicle, this could be excessive use of sick time.
“When you see that Officer Smith was suspended for 10 days it may not be a violation of the public trust. It may just be an employee- employer relationship that was fractured.
Gov. Phil Murphy, in announcing Grewal's order Monday at his daily novel coronavirus briefing with media, said the measure would increase public trust and transparency. An absence of information, he said, breeds suspicion.
"I think you’ve got a much clearer sense of the the reality," with the information being released, he said.
Murphy said the move would be "a step forward for law enforcement as well, to help generate greater faith in our communities in which our officers serve."
New Jersey State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan, who joins Murphy at the daily briefings, noted state police already release summary information about serious violations. He said the big difference, now, is names will be connected to those reports.
“We talk about embracing the scrutiny, embracing transparency, it’s also important to note the acts of a few should not tarnish the entire profession across this state or nation,” he said.
The police superintendent also said several officers who've been disciplined “have bounced back" and demonstrated "that resiliency that we so often talk about, that have gotten their lives and careers (back in order), and serve as phenomenal examples.”
He said these troopers “are able to serve the citizens of New Jersey with pride and dedication.”
Colligan said he wished Grewal "had taken a harder look at the data that’s going to be released in the future.”
Murphy ran, in part, on increasing transparency and accountability in New Jersey law enforcement. His administration praised a New Jersey Advance Media compilation of use of force reports in 2019, and has recently pledged to compile similar data on its own. Murphy also noted Monday New Jersey has banned choke-holds "in all but the most limited situations.”
Murphy said he hopes other law enforcement agencies, not just the State Police, release the names of officers who committed serious offenses in the past.
“These cases should not be left as just a passing synopsis in the back of an annual report. They deserve to be seen. They deserve to be out in the open," he said.
Callahan said within the next 30 days, the New Jersey State Police will release the names of all state troopers disciplined for serious violations over the past 20 years.
Grewal, said in a press release Monday morning for decades “New Jersey has not disclosed the identities of law enforcement officers who commit serious disciplinary violations."
"Today, we end the practice of protecting the few to the detriment of the many. Today, we recommit ourselves to building a culture of transparency and accountability in law enforcement," he said.