Reducing Use of Force by Law Enforcement
To ensure compliance with these new rules, the Attorney General’s Office has launched a number of officer training and accountability programs, including a first-of-its-kind statewide dashboard for tracking all use-of-force incidents in New Jersey. Learn more below.
Use of Force Policy
In December 2020, Attorney General Grewal announced the first revision to the statewide “Use of Force Policy” in two decades. The new policy overhauled the responsibilities of law enforcement officers when interacting with civilians, including by:
- Prohibiting 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;
- Prohibiting 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;
- Prohibiting officers from firing weapons at a moving vehicle or engaging in a high-speed car chase, except under narrowly limited circumstances;
- Providing new guidance on the use of less-lethal force as an alternative to deadly force and as a tool for de-escalation;
- Establishing 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
- Establishing 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.
The policy was promulgated pursuant to Attorney General Directive No. 2020-13 and Attorney General Directive No. 2021-14, and included two supplements: one regarding the use of conducted energy devices (or “stun guns”) and other forms of less-lethal devices; and one regarding vehicular pursuits:
- Use of Force Policy
- Addendum A: Conducted Energy Devices and other less lethal devices and ammunition.
- Addendum B: Vehicular Pursuit Policy,
Use of Force Dashboard
The Use of Force Policy requires that, within 24 hours of using force against a civilian, the law enforcement officer must report detailed information to a statewide “Use of Force Portal.” Operated by the Attorney General’s Office and developed in partnership with Benchmark Analytics, the portal provides the most comprehensive statewide database in the country for tracking the use of force by law enforcement. In addition, users can download the full dataset in various file formats.
In late 2020, New Jersey achieved an important milestone: all 500+ law enforcement agencies in the state began electronically submitting information into the portal. The Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity & Accountability and the Office of Justice Data, developed an online dashboard that allows researchers, reporters, and members of the public to access use of force information.
Users can access the dashboard using the buttons below. In addition, users can download the full dataset in various file formats. After exploring the dashboard, users are encouraged to complete a short survey to provide feedback and improve the site’s usability and accessibility.
Please note that the Use of Force Dashboard remains in active development. Continuing to use the dashboard indicates your understanding that the information in this dashboard is presented “as is.” Future versions or publications of this dashboard may contain additional or clarified information. If you believe the the dashboard contains an error, please email email@example.com.
To educate police officers about the new Use of Force Policy, Attorney General Grewal ordered that all 38,000 state, county, and local law enforcement officers in New Jersey complete an immersive, two-day training program on de-escalation and other tactics for limiting the use of force. All officers must complete the training no later than December 31, 2021;
This unique training program incorporates two proven and respected training programs:
- Integrated Communication and Tactics, or “ICAT,” training developed by the Police Executive Research Forum, and
- Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement, or “ABLE,” training developed by Georgetown University and others.
In addition, Attorney General Grewal directed that law enforcement agencies take a number of steps to ensure that they are properly reviewing use-of-force incidents after they occur. The new Use of Force Policy requires, for example, that supervisory officers review every use of force by their subordinate officers, both to determine whether the particular use of force was proper and to identify systemic issues that may require retraining or other remedial measures.
The Policy also requires that 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 – 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.
Investigating Use of Force Incidents
There are few investigations more important—or more challenging—than those involving the use of force by law enforcement officers against civilians. In December 2019, Attorney General Grewal issued AG Directive 2019-4, known as the Independent Prosecutor Directive, to outline clear procedures governing such investigations and to ensure that they are done fully, fairly, and independently of any potential bias.
Broadly speaking, the Directive outlines a ten-step process for conducting independent investigations of use-of-force and death-in-custody incidents in compliance with state law. One of the most important steps of this process is “Step 5,” which requires the public release of all video footage arising from the incident. The Directive requires that the footage—which includes any videos captured by body-worn cameras, police dashboard cameras, and surveillance cameras—be released to the public once the initial investigation is “substantially complete,” which typically occurs within 20 days of the incident. (Among other things, this 20-day period ensures that the independent investigators have an opportunity to interview all material witnesses before their recollections can be influenced by the public release of any video recordings.)
By law, whenever a use-of-force incident results in death, the Attorney General is required to present the matter to a grand jury to determine whether any of the responsible officers should be prosecuted criminally. If the case does not result in criminal charges, the Independent Prosecutor Directive requires that the matter be referred to the officers’ employers to determine whether they should subject to disciplinary action. Any disciplinary proceeding must be conducted pursuant to the Attorney General’s statewide protocols on internal affairs investigations, known as Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures (IAPP). In 2019, Attorney General Grewal overhauled IAPP to create new oversight mechanisms and ensure thorough investigations on faster timelines. Learn more at njoag.gov/iapp.
The Attorney General’s Office revised the statewide Use of Force Policy following extensive engagement with community stakeholders, law enforcement officers, civil rights organizations, and the broader public. Members of the public were invited to provide feedback on potential revisions either by submitting comments through an online portal or by attending one of the 21 listening sessions hosted by the County Prosecutors across the state. To read more about the idea and perspectives offered by members of the public and other commenters, click here.