New Jersey residents rely on state and local police officers to protect them and act swiftly and justly when a crime has been committed. When cops engage in misconduct, however, there can be serious consequences, including innocent people facing jail time. New Jersey has no means of decertifying problem officers, often allowing them to continue serving despite a history of dishonesty, evidence tampering, racial bias, and even police brutality.
Police misconduct often involves cutting corners, which can result in false evidence being collected. Such was the case for one Spring Lake Heights woman, who claims she spent 22 nights in jail because of a faulty Breathalyzer machine. A State Police sergeant pleaded guilty to falsifying documents stating that the machine was tested and provided accurate readings, when in reality, he skipped a step in testing this machine and others. The state attorney general’s office knew about the skipped step, and the state alleges that it was not essential for the machines to work properly. If the machines were giving inaccurate readings, more than 20,000 intoxicated driving cases may have been affected.
Unlike lawyers who are overseen by the bar, New Jersey police officers are not held to a minimum standard of conduct to maintain their jobs. Since Hawaii passed its police oversight law in July, only four states remain that do not require officers to be licensed, including New Jersey. This leaves the state with few options to remove bad officers.
Furthermore, there are numerous loopholes that allow officers accused of misconduct to continue serving. Officers who face misconduct charges in court can reach a plea deal that allows them to stay on the force. They may also transfer to other agencies with no record of decertification. The officer may be employed by another county or even another state. One Ocean County police officer made dozens of arrests while the prosecutor’s office thought he was on desk duty.
In addition to allowing officers with troubled pasts to serve, New Jersey does not have guidelines in place specifying when an officer’s past conduct needs to be disclosed. A person may be arrested by a police officer with a history of dishonesty but would have no way of knowing. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1963 requires prosecutors to notify defense attorneys of an officer’s history of untruthfulness, but New Jersey has no rules outlining exactly what information they must provide. Meanwhile, the state’s poor record keeping may prevent prosecutors from knowing about the officer’s history in the first place.
The state of Pennsylvania takes a harder line on police misconduct. In Philadelphia, the District Attorney’s Office has teamed up with the police department to track officers whose background requires disclosure in a database. Failing to track past misconduct and allowing troubled cops on the streets puts New Jersey residents at risk of civil rights violations.
If you have been the victim of police misconduct, call the Pennsylvania civil rights lawyers at Williams Cedar. Our attorneys will thoroughly review the facts of your case, including any history of misconduct, and hold the officers responsible accountable for their actions. With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and across the nation. Call us today at 215-557-0099 or contact us online for a free consultation.