AG Grewal Overhauls Statewide Police Use of Force Policies

Sweeping New Rules Place Strict Limits on Use of Force, Establish New Framework for Civilian Interactions; Will Apply to All 38,000 Officers in New Jersey

For Immediate Release: December 21, 2020

Office of The Attorney General
– Gurbir S. Grewal, Attorney General
Office of Public Integrity and Accountability
– Thomas J. Eicher, Director

For Further Information:

Media Inquiries-
Peter Aseltine
609-292-4791
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609-984-5828

TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced a comprehensive package of policies designed to limit the use of force by New Jersey’s 38,000 state, county, and local law enforcement officers. The sweeping changes include the first revision to the Attorney General’s “Use of Force Policy” in two decades and reaffirm New Jersey’s status as a national leader in progressive policing reform.

Today’s policies, issued pursuant to the Attorney General’s statutory authority as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, reflect a new statewide framework for police interactions with civilians— the first of its kind in the United States and one which calls upon law enforcement to protect the life, liberty and dignity of residents in every interaction. At the heart of the new framework is the revised Use of Force Policy, which among other things:

  • Prohibits all forms of physical force against a civilian, except as a last resort and only after the officer attempts to de-escalate the situation and provides the civilian with an opportunity to comply with the officer’s instructions;
  • Prohibits all forms of deadly force against a civilian – including chokeholds and strikes to the head or neck – except as an absolute last resort when the officer reasonably believes that such action is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury;
  • Prohibits officers from firing weapons at a moving vehicle or engaging in a high-speed car chase, except under narrowly limited circumstances;
  • Provides new guidance on the use of less-lethal force as an alternative to deadly force and as a tool for de-escalation;
  • Establishes an affirmative “duty to intervene” that requires all officers – regardless of rank, title, or seniority – to intercede if they observe another officer engage in illegal or excessive force against a civilian; and
  • Establishes an affirmative “duty to provide medical assistance” that requires officers to request – and, where appropriate, personally provide – medical assistance after any use of force against a civilian.

In addition, today’s announcement includes several significant policies designed to ensure compliance with the revised Use of Force Policy and help New Jersey’s law enforcement officers incorporate its principles into their daily work. These policies issued today by Attorney General Grewal provide that:

  • All 38,000 state, county, and local law enforcement officers in New Jersey must complete an immersive, two-day training program on de-escalation and other tactics for limiting the use of force. This unique training program will incorporate two proven and respected training programs: ICAT—Integrated Communication and Tactics training developed by the Police Executive Research Forum, and ABLE—Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement developed by Georgetown University and others. All officers must complete the training no later than December 31, 2021;
  • Within 24 hours of using any physical force against a civilian, the law enforcement officer must report detailed information about the incident to the statewide Use of Force Portal, a new electronic reporting system implemented with Benchmark Analytics, part of the University of Chicago’s Center for Data Science and Public Policy. A version of the portal will be accessible for public review in the first quarter of 2021;
  • Supervisory officers, including police chiefs, are now required to review all uses of force by their subordinate officers, both to determine whether a particular use of force was proper and to identify systemic issues that may require retraining or other remedial measures; and
  • Every New Jersey law enforcement agency – including the New Jersey State Police, the 21 County Sheriff’s Offices, and more than 500 local police departments – must conduct an annual analysis of use-of-force incidents to identify trends, including any racial disparities, and submit the analysis to the County Prosecutor for review.

The revised Use of Force Policy marks the culmination of a project that Attorney General Grewal announced in June 2020. Its development included dozens of community listening sessions across the state, including at least one in each county, and a review of over a thousand public comments. The Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity & Accountability (OPIA) oversaw the drafting process, in close consultation with law enforcement leaders, civil rights and religious organizations, and community stakeholders, many of whom provided statements of support for the final policy documents. (Statements of public support appear at the end of this release.)

“Today is another major step toward addressing the gap in trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve — drawing on the best practices of police departments across the nation and the urgent priorities of reform advocates to implement a uniform use of force policy for every officer in New Jersey,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “I commend Attorney General Grewal for his leadership during this transformational moment by delivering this first of its kind policy to ensure law enforcement is held to the highest professional standards, particularly for Black and Brown communities who have suffered far too many incidents of improper and excessive force. Through this comprehensive policy, we are again putting New Jersey at the forefront of the national movement for justice.”

“We are committed to making New Jersey a national leader in policing reform, and today’s actions deliver on that promise,” said Attorney General Grewal. “We are building on the important work already underway in the state’s best police departments and establishing a new standard of excellence across the Garden State. But today’s changes are about more than just reducing unnecessary use of force by law enforcement. We are also restoring the public’s trust in the work we do—which, in the long run, makes law enforcement more effective and everyone safer.”

“After hosting dozens of listening sessions and reviewing hundreds of public comments, we revised the Use of Force Policy to reflect the needs and concerns of the people we serve,” said OPIA Director Thomas Eicher. “But it’s not enough to simply issue a progressive new policy. We are committed to re-training every officer in the state and ensuring that they incorporate this model into their work.”

“The preeminent duty of a law enforcement officer is the preservation of life above all else, and that core principle is the foundation of this new policy. This initiative employs training that promotes mutual respect between police officers and the public, requires the use of deadly force only as a last resort, and was designed to hold New Jersey law enforcement to the highest professional standards in all aspects of policing,” said Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Programs like the Excellence in Policing Initiative, which builds trust between the police and the community through partnership, accountability and transparency, are why New Jersey continues to have the most innovative and professional law enforcement community in the nation.”

Additional New Initiatives

Attorney General Grewal also took several other steps today to improve public and law enforcement safety. To help police better handle situations involving individuals in mental health crisis, he issued a statewide directive establishing a framework for county prosecutors to convene (or in some cases continue) working groups to address police interactions with special needs populations and those living with mental or behavioral health issues.  The County Working Groups will review policies, programs and protocols to maximize the effectiveness of each county’s response to those with disabilities or those in mental health crisis.

In addition, Attorney General Grewal imposed several restrictions on the use of police dogs, prohibiting their use against crowds or protesters, or against those who are resisting arrest but do not pose a threat to another person. Attorney General Grewal directed OPIA to work with law enforcement and other stakeholders to study whether any additional restrictions should be placed on the use of police dogs, and make recommendations no later than March 31, 2021.

Attorney General Grewal also announced today that the Attorney General’s Office will be hiring a first-ever Chief Data Officer to oversee the compilation, interpretation, and use of the extensive law enforcement data that is collected by the Department of Law & Public Safety. The Chief Data Officer will ensure that the state makes the best use of the various law enforcement data streams it collects to inform and assess its ongoing policing reform efforts and to ensure public transparency.

Strengthening Community Trust

Today’s actions mark the latest phase of Attorney General Grewal’s “Excellence in Policing” initiative, which he launched in December 2019 to promote the professionalism, accountability, and transparency that have always marked New Jersey’s best law enforcement agencies. As part of this effort, Attorney General Grewal has invoked his authority under the Criminal Justice Act of 1970 to issue “law enforcement directives” that are binding on all state, county, and local law enforcement officers and prosecutors in New Jersey.

The revised Use of Force Policy – formally implemented via Law Enforcement Directive No. 2020-13 – follows a number of other significant policies designed to make New Jersey a national leader in policing reform:

Accountability

  • Improving oversight of, and greater transparency regarding, police department’s internal disciplinary units. (AG Directives 2020-7, 2020-6, and 2020-5.)
  • Requiring independent investigations of officer-involved shootings and other serious use-of-force incidents. (AG Directive 2019-4.)
  • Developing a statewide police licensing program. (June 2020 Action.)

Professionalism

  • Mandating implicit bias training for all prosecutors, state and county detectives, and New Jersey State Troopers. (June 2018 Action.)
  • Establishing a first-in-the-nation statewide “officer resiliency” program to help officers better cope with psychological stressors. (AG Directive 2019-1.)
  • Development of “early warning systems” to identity and counsel at-risk officers before their behavior escalates. (AG Directive 2018-3.)
  • Improving interactions between law enforcement and historically marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ individuals (AG Directive 2019-3), immigrants (2018-6), sexual assault victims (2018-5), and at-risk juveniles (2020-12).

Transparency

  • Mandating the prompt release of body-worn camera footage following serious use-of-force incidents. (AG Directives 2019-4 and 2018-1.)
  • Ensuring the prompt disclosure of exculpatory and impeachment evidence. (AG Directive 2019-6.)
  • Launching a statewide conviction review unit. (April 2019 Action.)
  • Hosting quarterly community listening sessions in all 21 New Jersey counties. (April 2018 Action.) 

Use of Force Policy

 Statements of Support for Revised Use of Force Policy

Louis Bordi, President, New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police (NJSACOP); Chief of Police, Voorhees Police Department:

“New Jersey’s Police Chiefs are proud to work alongside our law enforcement colleagues and the Attorney General in the ongoing work of moving policing forward and keeping our state at the forefront of continuous improvement.”

Rev. Dr. Charles F. Boyer, Founder, Salvation and Social Justice:

“Salvation and Social Justice is pleased that the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office is moving in the right direction with this Use of Force Policy revision. The revision better articulates the standards of force with new provisions regarding imminent danger, the use of Tasers, and officer pursuits of civilians. These policy improvements create a greater level of transparency and increase officer accountability.

“Our mission is to foster a community where people are not marginalized and policed on account of their race, gender, or socioeconomic status. This is the moral duty of New Jersey’s criminal justice system. We look forward to continuing this Use of Force Policy dialogue with the Attorney General’s Office, community partners, and constituents. There is still much work to be done; we are focused on making further progress in terms of police accountability, use of force standards, improved officer training, and elimination of asphyxiation techniques. This continued collaboration will promote justice and equity across the State of New Jersey.”

Zulma Cabrera, President, Hispanic American Law Enforcement Association: 

“I provided my support to the Attorney General’s Office Use of Force Policy working group. It has been an amazing experience to be able to come together with all the agencies involved to complete a policy that will address and ensure everyone’s safety. The working group has committed many hours to this important effort in order to provide the public and all law enforcement departments with the tools to assure all situations are handled safely and properly. I commend the Attorney General’s Office for allowing us the opportunity to be a part of this process.”

Patrick Colligan, President, New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association: 

“The revised Use of Force policy is another important tool in enhancing the professionalism and integrity of New Jersey’s law enforcement profession. This policy makes key changes that will protect our officers on the job while ensuring the public that New Jersey police remain the best trained in the nation. This policy developed after weeks of collaborative discussions amongst the State PBA and other stakeholders and we are grateful to the Attorney General’s Office for incorporating our suggestions.”

James M. Gannon, President, Sheriff’s Association of New Jersey; Morris County Sheriff:

“New Jersey law enforcement has a long history of working to better serve the citizenry by regularly improving operations and procedures. My colleagues in the Sheriff’s Association of New Jersey (SANJ) and our partners in the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police (NJSACOP) continue to impress me with their eagerness to find better ways to do a difficult job. That is why it was our honor to participate in the review of the Use of Force Guidelines with the Office of the Attorney General and to explore again how we may best serve the public.

“In the words of leadership expert Jim Collins, ‘Good is the Enemy of Great.’ There is always room for improvement. However, my counterpart in NJSACOP, Chief Lou Bordi and I agreed from the start that no group of law enforcement professionals is more vigilant about performing their sworn duties in the best way possible than the men and women in uniform serving the citizens of New Jersey. While outside scrutiny of any culture of service is always necessary, this review only left Lou and I even more impressed with our fellow officers because, once again, they have admirably demonstrated a willingness to accept greater discipline, despite these uncertain and difficult times, for their very difficult vocation.

“Law Enforcement is a dangerous profession. According to the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial, line of duty deaths are already up 56 percent this year— 198 officers killed so far in 2020 compared to 127 for all of last year. My fervent hope is that the great people of the State of New Jersey once again begin to consciously and openly express their appreciation for the job these guardians perform on a daily basis. The Officers need and deserve your support, and your respect!

“Please visit www.njsheriff.org and www.njsacop.org and you will see the thread of professionalism and accountability throughout our organizations. It is central to both Chief Bordi’s, and my own, stated missions!”

Commissioner Carole Johnson, New Jersey Department of Human Services:

“By prioritizing the importance of law enforcement de-escalation techniques, increasing the emphasis on listening and explaining, and expanding law enforcement knowledge about mental health and disabilities, the Attorney General is taking actions that will better protect individuals in New Jersey with mental health conditions and disabilities, who are often particularly vulnerable in law enforcement interactions. We look forward to working collaboratively with law enforcement, community leaders, individuals with lived experience and their families and guardians, to create a safer and more just New Jersey for all.”

  Christy Lopez, Professor from Practice and Faculty Co-Director, Innovative Policing Program,  Georgetown University Law Center:

“There has been a lot of talk about police reform over the last six months. With Attorney General Grewal’s  comprehensive, statewide changes to police use of force, New Jersey provides a roadmap for turning words into actions that can prevent policing harm and transform police culture. Importantly, the changes today go far beyond simply revising policy. New Jersey is increasing data collection and reporting and ensuring that officers will be trained in how to avoid unnecessary force and how to intervene to prevent other officers from committing misconduct. Georgetown Law’s Innovative Policing Program is happy to support this work through its ABLE Project active bystandership training.”

Robert  May, President Emeritus /Founder of The New Jersey Asian American Law Enforcement Officers Association (NJAALEOA); Detective (Retired), Port Authority of NY & NJ Police Department

“For a number of months during 2020 a group of professional law enforcement officers from different ranks and ethnic backgrounds assembled for the purpose of reviewing and updating the current Use of Force Policy used in the State of New Jersey. Every member of this working group used due diligence in regards to this complicated issue before the final draft document was forwarded to the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General for review and final revision. This document addresses issues that were not thought of 10, 15 or 20 years ago. I am confident each and every law enforcement officer in this state will rise to the occasion as they are guided by this updated Use of Force Policy. I would like to thank those for the privilege of being part of this extraordinary working group. I would also wish a safe and fulfilling career to the men and women who protect and serve 24 hours a day seven days a week.”

Jiles H. Ship, President, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) New Jersey; Past National President, NOBLE

“The public outrage after the senseless killing of George Floyd fueled the national demand for review of excessive force policies in law enforcement. We acknowledge the importance of this first step and NOBLE NJ looks forward to continuing our work with the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General to develop a comprehensive policy that will ensure the safety of all New Jerseyans and law enforcement officers.”

Amol Sinha, Executive Director, ACLU-NJ:

“The Attorney General’s use-of-force directive incorporates measures that have extraordinary potential to protect people’s rights and safety, and it creates important accountability requirements for law enforcement— with the understanding that even the strongest use-of-force policies are only as effective as their implementation and enforcement.

“At the core of the directive is an emphasis that law enforcement’s role is to treat all people they encounter with respect and dignity, value the sanctity of life, and work to deescalate difficult situations. This framework, if implemented effectively, could serve to avoid tragic outcomes and protect fundamental rights, particularly in Black and brown communities which often are the subject of over-policing. We look forward to working with the Office of the Attorney General, stakeholders, and advocates to inform further reforms and to help New Jersey’s law enforcement agencies fulfill the directive, both in letter and spirit.”

Richard T. Smith, President, NAACP New Jersey State Conference:

“Establishing a rigorous statewide policy focused on reducing use of force is an important step forward to achieving police accountability. We support the guiding principle that officers must make every effort to preserve and protect human life and the safety of all persons and never deploy force in a discriminatory manner.  We appreciate being included in discussions during the revision process and look forward to future engagement as the new policy with accompanying training rolls out. While we recognize that more work must be done to improve police-community trust, we applaud Attorney General Grewal’s leadership and commitment.”

Esther Suarez, President, County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey; Hudson County Prosecutor:

“This first-of-its-kind policy rightly emphasizes expanding the use of de-escalation as the primary tool for officers and that use of force should always be a last resort and only deployed once clear verbal warning and an opportunity to comply have been made. Among the many important measures announced today, we find the specific attention to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis and offering training and tools to officers incredibly important. Additionally, creating a first-in-the-nation public portal that documents every use of force by law enforcement is a transformative and important step toward transparency and trust building between law enforcement and the public.”

Joseph D. Wysocki, Police Chief, Camden County Police Department:

“The Camden County Police Department seeks to establish policy and practices that are progressive in nature and representative of a contemporary policing culture. We fully support the implementation of the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General Use of Force Policy, which promotes and codifies modern-day law enforcement ethos and ideals, anchored in the sanctity of human life.”  

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