Police use of force policies overhauled in NJ

Cyril Josh Barker | 12/24/2020, midnight
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal wants to make sweeping changes to how police use force in the Garden ...
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal Office of Attorney General / Tim Larsen

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal wants to make sweeping changes to how police use force in the Garden State.

This week, Grewal announced a comprehensive package of policies designed to limit the use of force by New Jersey’s 38,000 state, county and local law enforcement officers. The changes include the first revision to the attorney general’s “Use of Force Policy” in two decades.

“We are committed to making New Jersey a national leader in policing reform, and today’s actions deliver on that promise,” said Grewal. “We are building on the important work already underway in the state’s best police departments and establishing a new standard of excellence across the Garden State.”

The changes include prohibiting all forms of physical force against a civilian––including chokeholds and strikes to the head or neck––except as an absolute last resort and new guidance on the use of less-lethal force as an alternative to deadly force and as a tool for de-escalation.

Grewal said, “Today’s changes are about more than just reducing unnecessary use of force by law enforcement. We are also restoring the public’s trust in the work we do—which, in the long run, makes law enforcement more effective and everyone safer.”

All law enforcement officers in New Jersey must complete a two-day training program on de-escalation and other tactics for limiting the use of force. Within 24 hours of using any physical force against a civilian, the law enforcement officer must report detailed information about the incident to the statewide Use of Force Portal. The reports on the portal will be available for public review.

Supervisory officers, including police chiefs, are now required to review all uses of force by their subordinate officers, both to determine whether a particular use of force was proper and to identify systemic issues that may require retraining or other remedial measures. Every New Jersey law enforcement agency must conduct an annual analysis of use-of-force incidents to identify trends, including any racial disparities, and submit the analysis to the county prosecutor for review.

“The public outrage after the senseless killing of George Floyd fueled the national demand for review of excessive force policies in law enforcement.,” said Jiles H. Ship, president, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE). “We acknowledge the importance of this first step and NOBLE NJ looks forward to continuing our work with the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General to develop a comprehensive policy that will ensure the safety of all New Jerseyans and law enforcement officers.”