AG outlines process for revising New Jersey’s use-of-force policy

TRENTON, NJ — On June 12, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal outlined plans for revising New Jersey’s use-of-force policy, which governs when the state’s 36,000 law enforcement officers may — and may not — use force against civilians. As part of that process, Grewal announced that his office has launched an online portal for public comments and will be organizing community listening sessions in all 21 counties.

Earlier in June, Grewal first announced his intention to revise the policy, the first update in two decades. The initiative is part of the attorney general’s Excellence in Policing initiative, a sweeping set of policing reforms launched in December 2019 to promote a culture of professionalism, accountability and transparency.

“The use-of-force policy affects everyone, and so everyone should have the opportunity to weigh in on its revisions,” Grewal said. “We want to hear from a broad cross-section of our state: police officers, civil rights advocates, religious leaders, victims’ rights organizations and community members. We especially want to hear from those that have had negative experiences with law enforcement officers because we are committed to getting this right. By engaging residents across New Jersey, we will ensure that the updated policy reflects New Jersey’s values.”

The public comment portal, available at nj.gov/oag/force, will accept submissions through Aug. 1. The portal allows residents to submit comments about any aspect of the use-of-force policy, but specifically requests input on topics that will be discussed as part of the revision process, including:

  • Specific tactics designed to subdue a subject, such as choke holds, neck restraints, strikes to the head and face, and use of police dogs.
  • Engaging subjects with serious mental illness or substance abuse issues.
  • Exhausting all other reasonable means, such as verbal warnings, and pursuing de-escalation before resorting to deadly force.
  • Applying force proportionate to the subject’s alleged conduct, such as limiting the use of force when the subject has committed a non-violent offense.
  • Less-than-lethal uses of force, such as bean bag shots, rubber bullets and disabling netting.
  • Duty to intervene when another officer engages in excessive use of force.
  • Firing a weapon at a moving vehicle.
  • High-speed car pursuits.
  • Reporting and training requirements.
  • Any other proposals that reduce the risk of injury and death to civilians while maintaining the safety of police officers.

In addition to the online portal, the revision process will include community listening sessions in all 21 counties. Each of New Jersey’s county prosecutors will host an in-person or virtual event to obtain the public’s view on police use of force, and these views will be shared with the attorney general as part of the revision process.

To kick off these statewide listening sessions, Grewal will host an online forum on Wednesday, June 24, to discuss New Jersey’s current use-of-force policy and describe some of the revisions under consideration. The attorney general will be joined by Jonathan Parham, who previously served as chief of the Linden Police Department and now serves as director of countywide police policy, planning and training at the Union County Prosecutor’s Office. Attendees can register for the online event here.

Grewal has stated that he intends to issue a law enforcement directive revising the use-of-force policy before the end of 2020.

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