Police shake-up leaves city demanding justice

The Union County Prosecutor’s Office assumed oversight of the Elizabeth Police Department’s internal affairs functions, days later acting Prosecutor Jennifer Davenport was named as the county’s chief law enforcement officer and then the state Attorney General showed the city’s top cop the door.

The previous acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan announced that he was taking over because Elizabeth Police Director James Cosgrove lost confidence of the officers under his command and the public.

Cosgrove was subsequently forced to resign by state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal after the police director, a key ally of Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, was found to have made misogynistic and racist remarks about his underlings.

Cosgrove brought a hard line approach to the city, refusing to institute community policing and other socially responsible tactics to build healthy relationships with members of diverse communities in Elizabeth.

“Cosgrove had to go after he used the n-word to refer to black officers and the c-word to refer to women,” said activist Salaam Ismial. “He resigned only after constant community protest, 1,000 signers on a petition and calls by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal for him to resign.”

Ismial said little progress has been made in the city, where former Mayor Tom Dunn ordered police officers to “shoot to kill” during racial unrest in the 1960s and later in 1983, he ordered municipal employees to “Speak English Only,” as the Hispanic community grew.

The City of Elizabeth has been notified that the Prosecutor’s Office’s oversight will include comprehensive daily review of all disciplinary investigations and findings in order to ensure that the daily operations of the Department’s Internal Affairs Unit are functioning properly.

“Other blatant forms of racism exist in the staffing of the Elizabeth Police Department,” Ismial said. “Currently, there are approximately 340 officers, of which only 28 are black. Of the only supervisors, there are only five black sergeants, and three of them came by way of a discrimination lawsuit.”

Elizabeth taxpayers have paid hefty settlements in a number of recent police brutality cases.

The state Attorney General’s Office effectively took over the
Elizabeth Police Department and Grewal appointed a staffer to audit the workplace culture to make sure police officials are trained on implicit bias and sexual harassment.

Bollwage avoided comment for four days while the matter brewed but he pledged “our cooperation in ensuring the Police Department is sensitive to the needs of our residents.”

The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the Mayor for presiding over “decades of known bias in its police brass.”

“New Jerseyans certainly feel relief that Police Director James Cosgrove has stepped down, but it never should have required the Attorney General’s intervention or calls from advocates for Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage to take action,” ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha said.

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