NJ Attorney General Takes Step Backward on Police Internal Affairs Tracking

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
December 21, 2011 12:00 am

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ACLU Implores Dow to Suspend Use of Faulty New Form

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NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey condemned the decision of New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow to implement use of a new form that makes it more difficult for law enforcement officials and the public to track police misconduct investigations.

“We have done everything we can to stop the Attorney General from releasing this poor revision of the New Jersey Internal Affairs statistics form,” said Deborah Jacobs, ACLU-NJ executive director. “After all the negative attention the state and major cities have received for abusive police practices, it’s dismaying that the AG would implement a revised tracking system that is worse than the original.”

At issue is how annual statistics on Internal Affairs complaints and dispositions are submitted to the counties and state, and available to the public through the Open Public Records Act. The ACLU-NJ wants systems to ensure that every citizen complaint is properly investigated, tracked and reported.

For several years the ACLU-NJ has pointed out to the Attorney General (420k PDF) and other high-ranking law enforcement officials that thousands of ongoing Internal Affairs cases were dropped from statistical records because police departments failed to report them in a statistics form provided by the AG’s office. To complete the form properly, officials must note the number of complaints pending at the end of one year, and carry them over as pending into the next year. However, over the last decade a multitude of departments failed to carry the pending cases over, resulting in unknown outcomes for thousands of cases throughout the state over a multi-year period (650k PDF).

The problem was highlighted in the ACLU-NJ’s 2008 report, “The Crisis Inside Internal Affairs” (1.2mb PDF) and in the ACLU-NJ’s petition to the Department of Justice to investigate the Newark Police, as well as in a Star-Ledger article about it.

In 2011, the Attorney General formed a working group to examine this and other issues raised by the ACLU-NJ concerning the Internal Affairs policy. It announced revisions on May 6, 2011, and finally released it with attachments on the Attorney General’s website yesterday. The revisions – many of which the ACLU-NJ supported – included changes to the statistical form. However, instead of insisting that police departments properly carry pending cases over – just as they do with Uniform Crime Reports – the revised policy simply eliminated the pending column, thus making it impossible for chiefs, county prosecutors, the Attorney General or outside advocates to get a full understanding of internal affairs operations in each department.

On September 7, 2011, the ACLU-NJ wrote to Phillip Kwon (1.4mb PDF), First Assistant Attorney General, to explain the problem and ask that the form be changed prior to its release. The ACLU-NJ proposed another option that would allow the AG to streamline the form while maintaining critical information, like the pending columns. The AG’s office did not respond to the letter, nor phone calls and emails to Dermot O’Grady, Deputy Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, who oversaw the revisions.

Yesterday the Attorney General posted its new version of the form online (2.3mb PDF), thus making the new, inferior form official despite the fact that it provides less information to both police and citizens.

“In a climate where police practices in New Jersey are under scrutiny not only by concerned citizens, but also the Department of Justice, it’s unacceptable for the Attorney General’s office to lead us backwards into failed record-keeping,” said Jacobs.

The ACLU-NJ sent another letter to the Attorney General today (144k PDF), objecting to the form and imploring her to suspend its use before she leaves office.

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