STATE – There is a “crisis” in the way New Jersey police departments take internal affairs complaints, according to a report released earlier this month by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ).
Volunteers called 497 police departments to ask about how to file a complaint, including questions about whether they could file a complaint anonymously, by telephone, by a third-party, or by a juvenile without his or her parents. They also asked if an undocumented immigrant could file a complaint without fear that immigration authorities will be contacted.
New Jersey allows for complaints to be filed under any of those conditions, but more than three-quarters of the police departments were unable to provide answers or provided answers inconsistent with state law.
“When citizens are given wrong information or are dissuaded from filing internal affairs complaints with a police department, it gives them no faith that the same department will conduct thorough and fair investigations into allegations of officer misconduct,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom, the primary author of the report. “And it is hard for citizens to have faith in police departments that cannot police themselves.”
After reviewing an early draft of the report, the state Attorney General’s office proposed an online training course to teach law enforcement best practices regarding internal affairs and a quick reference guide to keep by the phone when responding to internal affairs inquiries.
“The ACLU-NJ applauds the steps taken by the Attorney General in response to our report, as they will help to ensure citizens have access to the internal affairs process,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “Municipal police departments must now follow the Attorney General’s lead.”
Of the 497 police departments surveyed, 121 received perfect scores, including the New Jersey Transit Police Department, Berkeley Heights, Hillside, Mountainside, Roselle and Westfield police in Union County, and Cranbury, East Brunswick, Highland Park, New Brunswick, North Brunswick, Plainsboro and Rutgers University police in Middlesex County.
The report, “The Crisis Continues Inside Police Internal Affairs,” is available on the ACLU-NJ website.