A plan by New Jersey’s attorney general to identify state troopers and other police officers accused of serious misconduct has been put on hold amid legal challenges from the state’s most powerful police unions.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal last month directed police agencies to begin an annual accounting of police officers subject to “major discipline” as protests against police violence roiled New Jersey and the nation. The attorney general also ordered the New Jersey State Police to identify officers subject to such discipline going back two decades by July 15.
The directive met stiff opposition from the unions, including the state Policemen’s Benevolent Association, the State Troopers Fraternal Association and others, who argued the attorney general’s directive would identify not only police officers fired over excessive force or racist behavior but also officers disciplined for routine infractions.
The troopers union filed suit, and an appeals court issued a stay until their arguments could be heard in court, originally scheduling the arguments for October. On Thursday, the state Supreme Court declined a request from Grewal’s office to intervene, but the appeals court on Friday agreed to hear arguments sooner, on Sept. 16.
The court rulings mean no disciplined cops will be publicly identified by the attorney general’s original July deadline.
“Our efforts may have been delayed, but I’m confident they won’t be denied,” Grewal said in a statement provided to NJ Advance Media. He added that his directives on police misconduct “are lawful, and they are necessary to maintain the public’s trust and confidence at this important moment.”
Patrick Colligan, the head of the state PBA, said union leaders were willing to negotiate with the attorney general to identify officers fired for serious misconduct but opposed naming officers subject to “major discipline,” a broad category that is treated differently from department to department.
“In the absence of partnership that allows us all to root out bad actors without sacrificing individuals who will be unfairly ruined in the rush to secure a soundbite, we will continue to pursue any and all legal remedies,” Colligan said.
Many states, including Florida, Arizona and Connecticut, treat a wide array of police disciplinary documents as public records, but they remain secret under New Jersey law.
Grewal’s directive was met with opposition from the unions and praise from some civil liberties advocates, though some, including the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, argued the directives did not go far enough because they still shielded the process of internal affairs investigations from public view.
One potential reform in the state Legislature (S2656) would take things further, requiring access to law enforcement disciplinary records under New Jersey’s state records laws. Introduced last month, it has not yet gotten a hearing, though state lawmakers have scheduled a wide-ranging public hearing on police reform for July 15.