For the first time, records of New Jersey police officers who have faced “major discipline” have been released and collected into a public database. The database includes terminations, demotions and suspensions of more than five days. It also describes the offenses for which the officers were disciplined.
New Jersey Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck released the database on August 10, in compliance with an earlier order from his predecessor Gurbir Grewal and a ruling by the NJ Supreme Court. (Grewal resigned in July to work in President Biden’s Securities and Exchange Commission.) The records published thus far span the second half of 2020, but will be released as an annual update going forward.
“Today begins a new chapter for police transparency and accountability in New Jersey,” Bruck said in a statement. “We are not simply ensuring accountability for those who engage in misconduct; we are also demonstrating that the vast majority of law enforcement officers work hard and play by the rules.”
In total, 203 officers from 87 different departments were disciplined between June 15, 2020, and December 31, 2020. The most-sanctioned department was the Camden County jail system, which disciplined 16 corrections officers. The New Jersey State Police disciplined 15 officers.
“Domestic disputes” and “domestic violence” were common citations, as were motor vehicle accidents.
The offenses described in the databased range from falling asleep on the job to “Terroristic threats.” “Domestic disputes” and “domestic violence” were common citations, as were motor vehicle accidents. Others included interfering with investigations, witness tampering, theft, assaulting civilians and sexually harassing a female detainee.
Some of the offense descriptions are missing or seem to leave out key facts. One Jersey City police officer was suspended after he “negligently discharged a firearm while off duty and on his personal property,” and broke policy regarding “intoxicants.” An earlier police department report that appears to refer to the same incident had noted that fired his gun during a personal dispute.
New Jersey residents have waited decades for such a database. For years, the state shielded police officers who were disciplined by their superiors. And if departments did release disciplinary information, it was done on an individual basis and was not readily accessible online.
Finally, in June 2020, then-AG Gurbir Grewal first ordered that all state police departments make this information public. It was a response to the historic worldwide protests over the police murder of George Floyd, as advocates for reform demanded that New Jersey enact greater policing transparency.
Police unions sued Grewal’s office over the order. They argued that making discipline records public risked smearing officers who had made honest mistakes. The lawsuit went all the way to the NJ Supreme Court, who last month unanimously ruled that Grewal’s order should stand. Police can, however, petition a judge to block the disclosure of any discipline records dating before June 15, 2020.