AG announces initiatives to promote racial justice statewide

TRENTON, NJ — Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck announced on Dec. 16 an expansive package of initiatives to use the broad reach of the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety to promote racial justice throughout New Jersey. The package includes a number of significant policy changes, including rulemaking to root out discrimination among New Jersey’s 720,000 licensed professionals and a directive to prioritize racial justice through civil investigations and enforcement actions.

In July 2021, on his first day in office, Bruck directed the department’s 17 divisions to identify specific projects to advance racial justice that they could complete using their existing authorities in the next six months. The Dec. 16 announcement provides the first public summary of the projects underway across the department as part of the “LPS Racial Justice Initiative.”

“While the Department of Law and Public Safety cannot fix long-standing racial disparities and injustices on its own, we have a moral obligation to use the tremendous reach of the department to achieve the maximum impact in promoting racial justice,” Bruck said. “I’m grateful that the leaders and staff of our many divisions have fully embraced this crucial initiative. The programs announced today underscore Gov. Murphy’s commitment to pursue racial equity for all New Jerseyans, and we’re proud to take on this important work in our department.”

 “I’m proud that our office is advancing this important, departmentwide initiative for the benefit of New Jersey’s residents,” said Lora Fong, assistant attorney general and the department’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. “Each of our divisions has responded to acting Attorney General Bruck’s directive with a sharp focus on how our systems and services can be more inclusive and equitable, and is committed to taking specific steps and swift action.”

In response to Bruck’s call to action, the department’s divisions and offices proposed a total of nearly 100 new initiatives designed to advance racial justice and equity for underserved communities. The initiatives — which rely on the department’s enforcement and regulatory authorities, community engagement, grantmaking, and other tools — include initiatives in the following areas, among others: combating bias, discrimination and hate; ensuring fairer treatment for justice-involved individuals; promoting equity and addressing past wrongs; and strengthening relationships with the community.

Highlights of the racial justice initiatives being pursued by the divisions include the following:

  • Bruck has proposed anti-discrimination regulations for all professional boards supported by the Division of Consumer Affairs. If adopted, the proposal will make clear that discrimination and bias-based harassment constitute professional misconduct that provides a basis for a board’s disciplinary action. The rule will apply to approximately 720,000 licensees overseen by 51 professional and occupational boards.
  • Bruck issued a directive on Dec. 16 to the department’s civil enforcement divisions — the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the Division of Consumer Affairs, the Division on Civil Rights, the Division of Gaming Enforcement and the New Jersey Racing Commission — instructing them to prioritize racial justice when identifying matters for investigation and enforcement. The directive includes strategies and best practices to ensure that the department deploys its civil enforcement tools to serve more effectively the needs of historically marginalized and underrepresented communities.
  • The Division of Administration is creating an interdisciplinary grant review team and revamping the process for evaluating grant applications to promote the equitable distribution of funds. The department awards millions of dollars of grants every year, many of them to assist underserved individuals or victims of crime. The division will lead efforts to make the teams reviewing grants reflect the diversity of those applying for them, which will promote the equitable expenditure of funds.
  • To provide greater access to work opportunities in the alcohol industry for people with histories of criminal justice involvement, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control is revisiting how it implements disqualifications to individuals seeking to be licensed or employed by the liquor industry. This work is focusing on what constitutes a crime of “moral turpitude,” and easing the financial burdens for those applying for reinstatement permits.
  • The Division on Civil Rights is introducing a training on bystander intervention for the workplace, launching a virtual seminar on the factors that inhibit and encourage bystander intervention, especially in situations involving bias, harassment and discrimination.
  • The Division of Criminal Justice is leading the development of an innovative pilot program focusing on domestic violence occurring in two underserved immigrant and low-income communities. This pilot program, which will be undertaken with one or two county prosecutors’ offices, will create a one-year diversionary program for certain domestic violence cases as a means of reducing collateral consequences for victims and the community stemming from police involvement in domestic violence incidents.
  • The Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor is launching community engagement and outreach initiatives focused on vulnerable communities to promote equitable enforcement of the law. The first will focus on reducing the victimization of and improving reporting of fraud in communities with limited-English proficiency and barriers to communication — communities where past outreach efforts have been insufficient. The second campaign, in coordination with the Elder Protection Task Force, will address elder abuse in underserved communities, marginalized communities and communities of color through targeted engagement and outreach to key stakeholders, including by working with clergy and community coalitions.
  • The Juvenile Justice Commission is revising its mission statement to include a focus on racial justice and ensuring equitable outcomes for youth, and will analyze the implementation of select policies to ensure equitable outcomes are achieved. In addition, the JJC is establishing a community liaison role.
  • The newly created Office of Justice Data is leading a data needs assessment with the goal of using data transparency to promote racial justice and advance equity. Among other things, the office will coordinate with the department’s divisions to identify what data collection or analysis resources are needed to implement racial justice initiatives.

Bruck also announced the receipt of resources to help implement aspects of the racial justice initiative through the award of two competitive U.S. Department of Justice grants totaling more than $1 million to combat hate crimes in New Jersey:

  • $750,000 for a public awareness campaign. This grant, from the Collaborative Approaches Toward Preventing and Addressing Hate Crime – Demonstration Projects Program, will fund a major public awareness campaign using television, print, radio, digital and social media to encourage New Jersey residents to confront the rising tide of hate by, among other things, recognizing and reporting bias incidents and crimes. It also will fund community events and training programs for law enforcement and victim services professionals.
  • $300,000 to enhance bias incident reporting. This grant, from the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Program, will be used to improve bias incident reporting by funding upgrades to record management systems to enable law enforcement agencies to participate in the National Incident-Based Reporting System.