Internal affairs pilot program bill advances

TRENTON – The Assembly Judiciary Committee released a bill 4-0-2 today that would seek to address problems with how police  handle internal affairs complaints.

A3708 would establish a two-year pilot program requiring the Attorney General to perform the internal affairs functions of certain county and municipal law enforcement agencies.

Currently, each law enforcement agency has its own internal affairs unit.

Sponsor Assemblyman and Committee Chairman Peter J. Barnes III said that in his home town of Edison his police department has had “challenges’’ going back 40 years or so.

“We have a proud tradition,’’ he said, “but we also have some problems.”

He said that the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office has made progress in Edison but is itself overburdened, providing an example of why this bill’s pilot program is a sensible alternative.

“I never felt handling internal affairs complaints at the local agency made sense,’’ because of evidence of bias and favoritism in the way IA departments handle cases, Barnes said.

Ed Barocas of the American Civil Liberties Union supported the bill. “This will bring needed supervision,’’ he said, adding that on Tuesday ACLU will release a study concerning problems citizens have regarding IA units and matters throughout the state.

The Attorney General has good guidelines, he told the committee; the problem is getting them enforced at the local level.

Stephan Finkel of the Attorney General’s office said the office already has constitutional authority over IA issues including complaints such as excessive force.  He said there is a concern this bill would appear to be dictating to the AG’s office.

He said the AG’s office has an understanding of the resources that would be needed to enforce this legislation.

Barnes said he respected the AG’s concern regarding taking over IA matters in over 500 towns, and that is why he felt a two-year pilot program in selected towns would be useful.  

Committee member Holly Schepisi, who abstained, supported the bill but urged the sponsors and the AG’s office to work together to possibly resolve differences.

Michael Patrick Carrroll – another abstainee – said he foresaw a conditional veto should the bill reach the governor’s desk, but he too said he recognized the sponsor’s concern to address  IA problems but was concerned that this bill was not the best approach.

But in support John McKeon said: “I’m immensely disappointed in this administration for not being open minded to a pilot program.’’

And Annette Quijano said, “What’s persistent is the public’s view that they’re not getting a fair shake.” She said it may turn out that the AG’s office is not the right venue, but the pilot program will help answer that question.

The panel also passed A3692, which  would require that crime witnesses be notified of the defendant’s release from custody under certain circumstances. Under current law, only crime victims or their relatives must be so notified.

It was released unanimously.

Internal affairs pilot program bill advances