Law enforcement keeps Jewish communities in New Jersey safe. Our Jewish schools, shuls and community centers have developed good relationships with law enforcement, and we regularly express our appreciation to them for what they do for us. Our responsibility as citizens, though, includes working to address the inequities and systemic issues within New Jersey law enforcement in relation to Black communities throughout New Jersey. For example, The Star Ledger’s Force Report (https://force.nj.com) showed that there is clearly racial disparity in police use of force in New Jersey. The Jewish community cannot stand silent in the face of such facts. What we can and should do is stand and work with the Black community to see necessary legislative changes made that will address the systemic issues that continue to exist in law enforcement throughout New Jersey.
Who does not believe that access to government records promotes transparency and can expose significant failings and provide insight into what can be done to effectuate meaningful change, which is especially critical in the context of police disciplinary records? Who would not agree that shielding police disciplinary records from the public reduces trust in law enforcement and causes communities to believe that misconduct is being covered up?
When it comes to transparency in the police internal affairs process and police disciplinary records, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has publicly acknowledged that “New Jersey’s extremely strict confidentiality is not an example of standard practice” throughout the United States. According to C.J. Griffin, director of the Justice Gary S. Stein Public Interest Center at Pashman Stein Walder Hayden, “Thirty states give the public at least partial access to discipline records.”
We need to make law enforcement disciplinary records accessible to the public so that there is transparency, which will breed trust. Senator Loretta Weinberg (LD-37) introduced S2656 in the New Jersey State Senate, which would make law enforcement disciplinary records accessible as government records under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act. S2656 has been referred to the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee, which is chaired by Senator James Beach (LD-6).
You may be wondering what would be considered “law enforcement disciplinary records” under S2656? S2656 would provide that law enforcement disciplinary records include, but are not limited to, complaints, allegations and charges; the name of the officer complained of or charged; the transcript of any disciplinary trial or hearing, including any exhibits; the disposition of any proceeding; and the final written opinion or memorandum supporting the disposition and discipline imposed including the agency’s complete factual findings and its analysis of the conduct and appropriate discipline of the covered officer; internal affairs records; and videos that record incidents that gave rise to complaints, allegations, charges or internal affairs investigations. As for privacy concerns, S2656 provides that certain information pertaining to the law enforcement officer or the officer’s family, the complainant or the complainant’s family and a witness or the witness’ family will be redacted to sufficiently protect those individuals while providing transparency.
In the name of equity and justice, its time for New Jersey to catch up with other states who have made strides to provide transparency in the police internal affairs process and police disciplinary records. You may be wondering what you as a member of the Jewish community may be able to do to impress upon the New Jersey State Senate that S2656 should be adopted as law.
I would suggest taking the following three steps: (1) write letters to Senate President Steven Sweeney ([email protected]) and Senator James Beach ([email protected]) and request that they take action on S2656 so that it’s adopted as law in 2021, (2) contact your state legislators (https://www.njlegstate.nj.us) to let them know that passing S2656 will bend the arc toward justice a little more and that you want them to support it and (3) on the local level, contact your municipal leaders, your mayors and councilmembers, and ask them to adopt resolutions in favor of S2656, in which they request that their state legislators vote in favor of this critical senate bill.
After all of the tragedies involving law enforcement and the Black community in recent years, New Jersey needs to increase trust in law enforcement now more than ever, and passing S2656 will move our state toward having a more just system of law enforcement. We need to let our state legislators know that the Jewish community stands with the Black community when it comes to reasonable and necessary police reform.
Josh Fine served as a member of the Borough Council of Highland Park from 2015 to 2020 and is a member of the Middlesex Black-Jewish Coalition.