In these turbulent times when the actions of law enforcement nationwide are often suspect , a person’s death at the hands of a law enforcement officer automatically comes with a perception of impropriety. The New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)is committed to bridging the ever-widening gap between this perception and reality. Although the FOP has made progress as it attempts to demonstrate to the public good work done by the law enforcement officers it represents, it knows it still has a long way to go to try to replace misperceptions with reality and truth. Unfortunately, while the FOP works to narrow the gap, New Jersey Senate Bill No.2469 (sponsored by Senator Steve Sweeney) was released from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on September 12th. and the Assembly Judiciary Committee on September 19th of this year.
It is the opinion of the FOP that S-2469l perpetuates the perception of impropriety by law enforcement. The bill mandates that the Attorney General handle the investigation and prosecution of crimes involving a person’s death by a law enforcement officer while the officer was acting in his/her official capacity or while the suspect was in custody. In addition, the bill requires a trial in a venue outside of the venue where the incident occurred. The FOP believes that the bill reinforces a misconception that law enforcement agencies and County Prosecutors cannot be trusted to truthfully determine what occurred in the case of a police related fatality. Supporters of this bill will see a cop who must be wrong or guilty or otherwise why would a change from County Prosecutors to the Attorney General or a change of venue be necessary? That dangerous perception will then become the reality for many.
Furthermore, why, when change of venue laws, court rules, and most importantly Attorney General Directives already exist, is it necessary to enact a law specific to law enforcement? In Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive No. 2006-5, the Attorney General may exercise this authority when he deems it appropriate by establishing the basic process by which incidents are investigated when a police officer uses force against a civilian. In these incidents, the Directive provides that investigations to determine the lawfulness of police use of force will be conducted by and under the direct supervision of the Division of Criminal Justice in the Attorney Generals’ Office. New Jersey Directive 2006-5 establishes procedures for multi-layered, independent investigation and review of police use-of-force incidents. If Directive 2006-5 already exists and is further enhanced by supplemental directives, why is S-2469 necessary when all it does is create a perception of impropriety on the part of law enforcement and County Prosecutors as well? The FOP opposes S-2469 not out of fear or the idea that law enforcement has something to hide. Rather, it opposes the bill because of the false and dangerous perception created by the bill.
The FOP simply asks that lawmakers respect and allow the current judicial system and process to be applied as it was designed and not create a separate judicial system for law enforcement. When law enforcement officers take an oath to uphold the law, they are held to a higher standard, and rightfully so. Although a higher standard of conduct is applied, the rights of law enforcement when indicted, prosecuted, and judged should remain the same as any other citizen. While law enforcement is not above the law, it also believes that the laws and the processes to be applied when they break the law should be applied equally to any resident of New Jersey.
For these reasons, the FOP asks that the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly and Governor Cristie reject S-2469 and in its place work with the FOP to help bridge the gap between perception and reality.
James E. Ford
New Jersey State Fraternal Order of Police