TRENTON, NJ — On Nov. 15, Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin issued a policy that significantly increases annual public disclosure of serious misconduct by New Jersey law enforcement officers. This action builds upon a 2020 attorney general directive that required agencies to report annual synopses of any “major discipline” — termination, demotion or suspension of more than five days — issued.
The Nov. 15 policy adds the following categories of discipline to the annual release, regardless of the discipline imposed: discrimination or bias; excessive force; untruthfulness or lack of candor; filing a false report or submitting a false certification in any criminal, administrative, employment, financial or insurance matter in their professional or personal life; intentionally conducting an improper search, seizure or arrest; intentionally mishandling or destroying evidence; and domestic violence.
Under the directive, by Jan. 31 of each year, law enforcement agencies will report to the attorney general, and publish on their public website, a brief synopsis of misconduct falling within the enumerated categories and the name of the officer involved. The directive requires that the synopsis provide sufficient detail to enable a reader who is not familiar with the case to fully understand the factual scenario that resulted in the disciplinary action.
Reflecting these same transparency interests, a recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision, Rivera v. Union County Prosecutor’s Office, requires that a range of internal affairs reports may be publicly accessible under the common law right of access upon request. The directive lays out a framework to improve the efficiency of agency responses to requests for internal affairs records under the common law right of access — avoiding the need for burdensome litigation on all sides. Specifically, upon request by a member of the public or the press, if an incident falls within one of the enumerated categories discussed above, agencies will disclose a summary and conclusions report that sets forth a summary of the allegations, a summary of the factual findings and the final discipline that was imposed.
“Transparency is fundamental to ensuring confidence in the work of law enforcement,” Platkin said. “These disclosures of police internal affairs information are an unprecedented step in promoting that transparency, and a continuation of our efforts with respect to greater accountability and professionalism. The relationships between law enforcement and community members will be better served by making this information publicly available.”
“The attorney general’s directive issued today reflects careful and balanced policymaking, and the end result serves a variety of important interests, including improving transparency and avoiding burdens on law enforcement agencies receiving public records requests,” said Thomas J. Eicher, executive director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. “Public support for law enforcement is essential and an effective, transparent internal affairs process is vital to that support.”
This latest effort by the attorney general’s office to provide greater transparency to the public comes after the office in September made a variety of de-identified internal affairs information readily available online, through a new dashboard of internal affairs statistics searchable by law enforcement agency, the alleged infractions involved and the disciplinary action taken. The dashboard is available at njoag.gov/iapp.