New Jersey Announces Important Police Reform Measures
George Floyd died while in police custody with his neck pinned to the ground until he stopped breathing. His death has sparked global protests against police brutality and racial discrimination. In response to the calls for change, New Jersey has recently announced seemingly simple but practically profound law enforcement reforms. Acknowledging the validity of the premise at the root of these global demonstrations, New Jersey’s Governor Murphy stated: “The pain and fatigue felt by many in our black and brown communities is real and it is palpable.” He continued, “It is the pain and fatigue of decades, generations — at this point, centuries — of inequality and systemic racism. It is pain that has eroded the ties that bind some of our communities and the men and women whose sworn duty it is to protect them.”
The reform measures include an expansion of a state-wide database that track’s use-of-force, so that all police departments statewide have access to it within a month. The State plans to utilize the database to update use-of-force policies by the end of the year. It will be the first time in two decades such an across-the-board use-of-force policy change is implemented.
Many who study police brutality, and lawyers whose practice involves police brutality, agree that law enforcement suffers from the problem illustrated by the adage that “when you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Many law enforcement officers are undertrained and underequipped to respond to the myriad public safety issues they are increasingly called on to address, such as mental health crisis intervention, or connecting people in need with resources. As such, New Jersey will begin a pilot program to offer crisis intervention team training in several municipalities, and will establish at the state level an “incident response team” that will respond to incidents of police misconduct to heal rifts in public trust and confidence.
New Jersey already requires hairdressers to complete 1,200 hours of instruction, pass an exam, and obtain a license before they charge money to cut hair. The state will now also take the step to extend a licensing requirement to all law enforcement statewide. Professionalizing law enforcement throughout New Jersey will ensure baseline competence, and, in part, seeks to recalibrate the antagonistic aspects of the relationship between law enforcement and the public.
These changes do not reflect the full scope of change and reform that protestors are demanding, but they nevertheless reflect progress, and that New Jersey’s leaders are listening.
By: Christopher Markos, Esq.
June 18, 2020