New Jersey Legislation Would Open Up Police Officer Files, Expose Misconduct

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By Zhuoshan Liu

NEW JERSEY – New Jersey recently announced controversial legislation that would dramatically increase the transparency of police officers in the state, and is designed to protect innocent people and regulate corrupt officers.

Some states, like California and New Jersey, have what some call “over-protective” laws that prevent the viewing and exposure of a law enforcement officer’s personnel files, including complaints of excessive force and other bad behavior.

That’s the opposite of the record of police officer, Derek Chauvin—the officer charged with killing George Floyd—that was made public for all to see.

Senate Bill 2656, authored by Senator Loretta Weinberg, calls for the availability of police records.

According to Michelle Feldman’s report, “New Jersey Introduces SB 2656, Bill That Would Expose Police Misconduct,” the bill includes:

  • Complaints, allegations, and charges filed against police officers
  • Transcripts and exhibits from disciplinary trials and hearings
  • Dispositions of proceedings
  • Final written opinion/memo on disposition and discipline imposed, including the agency’s complete factual findings and analysis of the officer’s conduct
  • Internal affairs records
  • Agency factual findings, analysis, that final opinions on disciplinary hearings
  • Video recordings of incidents that gave rise to complaints, allegations, charges, or internal affairs investigations

According to proponents of the legislation, George Floyd’s death reminds the public and the government of the problem’s importance, and would benefit the community to create a balanced justice environment. It can also have a great influence on the other states of the US.

“A New Jersey Supreme Court rule created a presumption of non-disclosure of police disciplinary records, in which the defense can only access information about misconduct if they already know about the misconduct. This Catch-22 means that courts rarely rule in favor of disclosure,” Feldman, a journalist from the Innocence Project, said.

“When you’re dealing with people who can arrest us, who can prevent us from having full rights to liberty, we’re dealing with a special class of people when we deal with law enforcement so they have to be held to an even higher standard. The public has a right to know who their local law enforcement are and what they represent,” Sen. Weinberg said.

Some  law enforcement officers support the measure.

“Full transparency lifts the veil that hides favoritism and cronyism. Once the public understands exactly how bad the internal affairs process is, people will demand civilian review of misconduct allegations.” Richard Rivera, a retired police officer in West New York said.

The bill can influence criminal courts. If the police officer has a “bad” record, the jury and the judge will reconsider the case because that information can be used to impeach, or shed doubt on, the testimony of officers as witnesses in a case.

New York recently took similar steps to open up the records of police officers.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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