WOTC passes three police-related ordinances

West Orange Police Chief James Abbott speaks with the township council about several police ordinances at the meeting on July 14.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Township Council passed three police-related ordinances at its meeting on July 14, all unanimously, putting into effect the demands that the West Orange Youth Caucus asked for in a petition at the Black Lives Matter protest on June 6. One ordinance, which was approved on second reading, bans the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and flexible batons, while also requiring officers to use body cameras and dashboard cameras. The other ordinance approved on second reading repealed the town’s loitering ordinance, which the WOYC said led to racial profiling.

The third ordinance, which passed on first reading and will be on the council’s Aug. 11 agenda for second reading, bans certain use of force to prevent positional asphyxiation, which prevents suspects from breathing adequately.

Joe Nalieth, a 2020 West Orange High School graduate and a founding member of the WOYC, spoke at the meeting during the public hearing of the first ordinance.

“I just wanted to say thank you to everyone on behalf of the West Orange Youth Caucus,” Nalieth said. “It means a lot to us that you would take into consideration all of these ordinances and pass them.”

When discussing the ordinance that includes requiring WOPD officers to wear body cameras, which the department already did, Councilwoman Cindy Matute-Brown asked about broken cameras.

“I understand through my visits with the police department that the condition of their current body-worn cameras are not the best, and oftentimes our police officers are having to go back to the department to charge them,” she said. “Are we replacing the current body cameras?”

CFO John Gross said at the meeting that this year’s capital budget includes a request for a new camera system. Until then, the town is paying to repair the current cameras.

“It’s pointless to buy brand-new ones now when we don’t have the system to accept them,” he said. “It’s not just about buying the camera, it’s about buying the camera and the software and the hardware that take the recording off of them on a timely basis. The new ones won’t work on the old system. But we are requesting funds to improve the system this year.”

Gross added that he hopes a system will be purchased that will last longer than five years, so continual repairs will not need to be made.

The ordinance that passed on first reading bans choke holds, minimizes the use of force, bans force that prevents proper breathing, requires officers to identify themselves before shooting their guns, and bans firing at or from a moving vehicle. Police Chief James Abbott said the ordinance follows all guidelines from the state attorney general’s office.

In his comment, Nalieth said he hopes the town will establish a civilian community review board. Abbott talked about the open house that each New Jersey county will have in the future for residents who are interested in being a part of the board.

“Right now there’s no training available, which is a mandatory requirement before you appoint anybody to a board,” Abbott said. “There are things I have to meet with the mayor about, like who gets appointed and by who. That’s something I’m not really sure of, whether the attorney general is going to dictate it or if it’s the mayor. I saw pending legislation from that state that would make it a mayor’s appointment, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the best way to go about it, because there’s so many forms of government in New Jersey.”

Abbott is still committed to creating a community review board, however.

“We want as much input to this as possible, from all walks of life,” he said. “The more people on it the better.”