As police reform bills like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act remain defeated at the federal level, New Jersey officials may have found one solution to police accountability.
Governor Phil Murphy and Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin have announced proposed legislation to create a statewide police licensing program.
According to a news release, if enacted, the bill would require all law enforcement officers to hold valid, active licenses issued by the Police Training Commission (PTC) for employment as officers in New Jersey.
“I am honored to announce that we will be joining the overwhelming number of states, who have established a police licensing program as a requirement for all law enforcement officers,” Murphy stated. “These licenses should be held with honor as they show that these officers have been through rigorous training and have upheld what it means to be a law enforcement officer to the highest professional standards.”
If the bill passes, the PTC will establish the licensure process and qualification standards for officers and applicants.
That includes passing a psychological examination, maintaining post academy ongoing professional training requirements set by the PTC, and not engaging in conduct, including social media posts or being an active member of a group that advocates for the violent overthrow of the government.
It also prohibits discrimination based on classes protected by the Law Against Discrimination. The bill would make law enforcement licenses subject to renewal three years after issuance. It would also authorize the PTC to suspend, revoke, place conditions, or deny licenses after a hearing.
The measure would expand Governor-appointed public members from two to four members of the PTC, officials noted in a news release.
Further, employing law enforcement agencies must also inform the PTC of any separation from employment of a licensed officer, and hiring agencies must request from the PTC why an applicant left prior law enforcement employment.
For instance, an employing unit must contact the PTC when an officer loses their license due to a conviction of a crime, domestic violence, or an offense for losing a firearm.
“Combined, these provisions would establish a mechanism for law enforcement agencies to make thorough and effective hiring decisions,” New Jersey officials wrote.
The PTC establishes statewide law enforcement standards and in 2021, voted unanimously to create a statewide police licensing program.
Officials said more than 40 states across the country use a form of decertification or licensing for law enforcement officers.
To help build public trust in law enforcement, the proposed police licensing program would require all law enforcement officers to meet specific uniform professional standards to serve in law enforcement.
The legislation grants the PTC the ability to act against the licenses of officers who act outside the professional standards or engage in illegal or improper conduct.
Notably, police unions in the Garden State and civil rights groups have voiced support for the bill.
“The New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association stands behind Governor Murphy and Acting Attorney General Platkin’s proposed legislation for a police licensing program in our state,” said Patrick Colligan, President of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association.
“This licensing program will provide transparency to the communities we serve and hold our officers accountable to maintain a high professional standard and provide the due process they deserve. When bad actors in our profession tarnish our badges, it makes us all look bad,” Colligan stated.
Richard Smith, the President of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference, and Robert Gries, the executive vice president of the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police, also issued statements supporting the proposal.
“The New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police which represents over 14,000 of New Jersey’s Finest, supports Governor Murphy’s initiatives to further enhance professionalism within the Law Enforcement community in New Jersey,” Gries remarked.
“We look forward to supporting and working with the Governor’s Office on this and all matters that affect and improve the ability of Law Enforcement to perform their important work.”