New Jersey Supreme Court Says Attorney General Can Publish The Names Of Cops Who Committ Serious Misconduct

from the flow-my-tears,-said-the-now-disgraced-policeman dept

Last year — following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin (and following the protests that followed this unconscionable killing) — New Jersey’s top cop said there would be more transparency and accountability in his state.

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today ordered all law enforcement agencies in New Jersey to begin publicly identifying officers who commit serious disciplinary violations. Under the order, going forward every state, county, and local law enforcement agency in New Jersey will be required to annually publish a list of officers who were fired, demoted, or suspended for more than five days due to a disciplinary violation, with the first list to be published no later than December 31, 2020.

This move — one that finally aligned New Jersey with several other states’ transparency rules — resulted in immediate legal action from the state’s police unions. According to them, this was unfair — an unlawful clawback of promises made to cops disciplined in the past, who were assured their names would not be published.

Well, part of that still sort of holds, but only on a case-by-case basis. The state’s Supreme Court has sided with the Attorney General and his power to create new rules that apply to law enforcement officers. The ruling [PDF] says the new mandate is good and lawful and definitely affects all officers who commit serious misconduct after the announcement of the rule.

Directive 2020-5 applies to all law enforcement agencies in the State, including local police departments; Directive 2020-6 applies to the State Police and other agencies within the Department of Law and Public Safety (Department). Both Directives encompass all findings of major discipline after January 1, 2020. In addition, for the State Police and other agencies within the Department, officers subjected to major discipline dating back twenty years would be identified publicly.

As the court notes, this completely upends the state’s standard operating procedure.

The Directives mark a sharp change in practice. Previously, the Attorney General fought to shield the identities of law enforcement officers disciplined for serious misconduct.

But even though it’s a big change, it’s still the sort of thing a state Attorney General can do. And law enforcement agencies must comply.

The Attorney General had the authority to issue the Directives, which satisfy the deferential standard of review for final agency decisions. The Directives are designed to enhance public trust and confidence in law enforcement, to deter misconduct, to improve transparency and accountability in the disciplinary process, and to identify repeat offenders who may try to move from one sensitive position to another. In short, the Directives are consistent with legislative policies and rest on a reasonable basis.

So, suck it, bad cops who don’t want to have their names made public going forward. However, cops who received assurances their names would not be made public no matter how egregious their misconduct still might be able to keep their names buried. But this is not a blanket order. The officers will need to make their case to the court to determine whether or not the AG’s office can still be (sort of) sworn to secrecy.

Officers subjected to major discipline for the past twenty years say they were promised that their names would not be released, and that they relied on that promise in resolving disciplinary accusations. In essence, they ask the State to stand by promises they claim were made throughout the prior twenty years. To resolve that serious issue, a judge will need to hear and evaluate testimony and decide if the elements of the doctrine of promissory estoppel have been met for disciplinary matters settled before the Directives were announced.

The court also reminds law enforcement officers that this sort of thing is considered acceptable by many professionals in many fields.

The Directives implement a practice that is common in other professions. When doctors, lawyers, judges, and other professionals are disciplined for misconduct, their names are made public. The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs lists the results of disciplinary actions against accountants, architects, dentists, electrical contractors, engineers, nurses, pharmacists, plumbers, real estate appraisers, and others on its website.

And it’s also the sort of thing that’s expected by the people who pay these public servants’ salaries, i.e. the state’s residents.

That practice is routine in other professions and shines light on both the overall disciplinary process and individual wrongdoing.

So, cops who don’t want their names made public when they’ve committed serious misconduct have a few options. Well, really just one: don’t commit serious misconduct. That will keep the officer’s name out of the Attorney General’s proverbial mouth.

Of course, the officers affected by this have concerns…

They contend the Directives will embarrass officers and make them and their families targets for retribution; undermine the integrity of the investigatory process; chill cooperation from officers; discourage officers from seeking treatment for alcohol or drug dependencies; undermine the command structure in law enforcement agencies; have a negative effect on public safety; and reveal the identities of victims and witnesses in domestic violence and other matters.

But those concerns aren’t enough to nullify the new mandate, says the court. Plenty of other professions deploy the same sort of accountability measures and, while they may result in the same sort of side effects, have never been declared unlawful or a violation of due process rights.

The top court affirms the lower court’s ruling and with this ruling, the Attorney General’s rule stands going forward. And it likely will apply to most officers who’ve committed serious misconduct during the last 20 years. Of course, the police unions still have complaints. And that leads to this gobsmacking lie that would be hilarious if it weren’t coming from the source of the multitude of problems plaguing US police departments.

Patrick Colligan, the president of the state Policemen’s Benevolent Association, New Jersey’s largest police union, called the ruling “both frustrating and disappointing.”

The NJSPBA does not and will not protect bad officers who violate the public trust and, yet, the 99.9% of good men and women serving in law enforcement continue to find themselves under attack,” he said in a statement.

The Attorney General’s transparency directive stands. If officers don’t want to subject themselves to all the negative effects of having their names published, well… maybe they should avoid committing serious misconduct.

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Comments on “New Jersey Supreme Court Says Attorney General Can Publish The Names Of Cops Who Committ Serious Misconduct”

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17 Comments
That One Guysays:

I'm just gonna keep the nano-violin out for quick access...

Oh noes, the public will have the ability to see just how badly the police in new jersey are acting, however shall they cope with the idea that the public will be able to see how the people their tax dollars are used to pay behave on the job?

If they don’t want records of them acting like thugs and/or in an unprofessional manner to be made public then there’s a really simple solution: Don’t act in a manner that ’embarrassing’ records like that are created. This is a ‘problem’ caused entirely by the police and they have no-one but themselves to blame that the public doesn’t trust them and wants to ‘check their work’ as it were.

Anonymoussays:

Officers subjected to major discipline for the past twenty years say they were promised that their names would not be released, and that they relied on that promise in resolving disciplinary accusations.

It’s almost like someone lied to them to encourage them to confess. It’s a shame we don’t have any precedent on how to handle misdirection and broken promises by law enforcement.

Anonymoussays:

The NJSPBA does not and will not protect bad officers who violate the public trust and, yet, the 99.9% of good men and women serving in law enforcement continue to find themselves under attack

How are the "99.9% of good men and women" under attack? They should have no cause for concern, if only the bad officers are getting named publicly.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re:

It’s the 99.9 (i wonder why he didn’t go for five nines) % of good men and women who have among their ranks a quite large number who commit serious discipline-worthy* acts that he is worried about "being attacked".

  • Bear in mind that these cops are the goats who got the sacrificial wrist-slapping because their behaviors were reported, noticed, and taken mildly seriously, in contrast to all the incidents which seem to generate no official record even when reported. These behaviors and incidents being the sorts of things which are more egregious than the majority of incidents for which police are called to deal with, and which generally land non-cops in situations involving fines and a healthy dose of time in the system.

Oh right, plus also the claim that this will discourage officers from seeking treatment for alcohol or drug dependencies. Lol. Shitcan them until they get their act together? I mean, they drive fast and carry guns. This shouldn’t be voluntary. But on the voluntary side, why would it discourage them from getting help anyway? I would imagine it would more prompt them to get help. That sort of thing is only stigmatized by people like… these cops and their culture. Aside from that, we’ve lived since the 80s in the age of "I’m a recovered blah blah blah, I command you to listen to me, and feed my career!"

That One Guysays:

Re: 'A good cop who covers for a bad cop is not a good cop'

Even if you believed the number to be accurate the why is still very important, as if 99.9% of non-corrupt cops are ‘under attack’ it’s probably because they refuse to do anything about the .1% that are corrupt, such that to anyone looking in from the outside it looks like the 99.9% are in full support and defense of the .1% and if the public can’t trust the ‘good’ officers to do anything about the ‘bad’ ones other than support them the safest position to take is that they’re all bad.

Some Random Stagehandsays:

I keep hearing from the Law Enforcement world that "if I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to worry about." Well, right back at yah, Boyos-in-Blue! Any of their brothers and sisters in the police unions who protect them should loose their union membership and protections. I am a Union member, and my union had to change with the times to get rid of the view that Stagehands were all fat, lazy, double dipping, nepotistic drunks. We did it! Now you wouldn?t dare break the trust of your Brothers and Sisters by defying the Union Constitution and disgracing yourself. The Police Unions should be jumping to get ahead of this and become a force for good! If it really is only "a few bad actors," then it won?t be a problem. Right?

unforgivensays:

99.9% good cops?

I’m sorry but just my personal experiences with law enforcement officers in multiple states and the military casts great doubt on that number. Additionally if an overwhelming number of LEO were honest, why would they continue to need "unions" and continue to hide the misconduct that is often rampant? It is time for law enforcement, officers and organizations to police their own, own up to violations of the law, misconduct and bad officers. Besides if a doctor screws up, gets hammered with disciplinary action(which their professional organizations also try to cover up, they get their name published on the naughty lists. Why are cops any better?

Anonymoussays:

The court also reminds law enforcement officers that this sort of thing is considered acceptable by many professionals in many fields[: ?] doctors, lawyers, judges, and other professionals[…,] accountants, architects, dentists, electrical contractors, engineers, nurses, pharmacists, plumbers, real estate appraisers

And the elephant in the room: cops publish the names of people they arrest. Even without proof of wrongdoing. Some departments make quite the big show of it.

So, cops who don’t want their names made public when they’ve committed serious misconduct have a few options. Well, really just one: don’t commit serious misconduct.

A cop that has committed serious misconduct will have their name published. They no longer have the option of not committing serious misconduct. (I.e., this isn’t just about repeat offenders, in theory. But in practice, has a cop ever been fired, demoted, or suspended five days for a first offense?)

bhull242says:

The NJSPBA does not and will not protect bad officers who violate the public trust and, yet, the 99.9% of good men and women serving in law enforcement continue to find themselves under attack.

Huh? The only people this case puts ?under attack? are officers who committed serious misconduct. Aren?t those, pretty much by definition, ?bad officers who violate the public trust??

mesays:

Growing pains of the new Police State once known as America

I predict a large, sharp decline in the number of police officers charged with any sort of misconduct in New Jersey after today.

Not because the cops will become honest public servants who follow the letter of the law, but because disciplinary measures will simply no longer be dished out to cops who violate the law, beat the shit out of civilians, or cause the death of innocents.

Nothing to report if none of their cops are charged with misconduct going forward.

Problem solved.

Anonymoussays:

It’s moving in the right direction, but you can fit a hell of a lot of misconduct into a 5 day suspension. First one I can think of is a cop who got 5 days for cooking his k9 to death in his car, that would not trigger mandatory reporting though. Brutally assaulting handcuffed suspects also falls in that range sometimes.

They need to drop that mandatory reporting threshold down to any suspension greater than or equal to one second. Why shouldn’t the public have a right to know which government employees were suspended for any amount of time? Every government agency should do this tbh. My city’s parks and rec department had a pretty big sex scandal that included a coverup reminiscent of a PD mixed with a Catholic diocese.

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