Bad cops can’t sneak between departments under law proposed after USA Today Network reporting

By Andrew Ford, published Sept. 4, 2019 by the USA Today Network

Bad cops shouldn’t be able to avoid discipline by quietly moving to another department under a proposed law inspired by an Asbury Park Press investigation that revealed loopholes in police oversight.

Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen, filed a bill that would require police departments to share an officer’s ordinarily secret personnel file with a potential new employer before the officer moves between departments. That would include any internal affairs investigations into possible misconduct, as well as commendations for good work.

“This bill is to ensure that the receiving department has a full package of information on the officer they’re contemplating hiring,” Johnson, a former police officer who also served as Bergen County sheriff, told the Press and the USA TODAY NETWORK — New Jersey.

The Press investigation detailed how troubled cops and flawed policing culture can tarnish the good work of the more than 30,000 officers in more than 400 police departments in the state.

Johnson’s bill was referred to the Law and Public Safety Committee, where it could be reviewed when the Assembly returns to work in the fall. The Network learned the law has support from a member of both major parties and both houses of the Legislature.

“Our job as elected officials is to ensure that the public is safe,” Johnson said. “That’s one of our main priorities: public safety.”

Johnson said his bill was inspired by a 2018 community forum he attended at the Asbury Park Press office following the publication of “Protecting the Shield,” a series on police accountability that showed how citizens are injured by rogue cops and abuses are then hidden with tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and secret agreements. The Network found at least 68 officers with disciplinary issues were allowed to resign, but then three moved on new jobs in law enforcement.

After the series was published, Johnson and state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, joined Network reporters in a panel discussion to address questions from the public and discuss solutions to policing problems.

“You guys have done great work in shining a light on potential deficiencies in the consistency of the standards that we apply to members of our law enforcement community,” O’Scanlon said Tuesday. “It’s good for that community and it’s good for the community at large to have clear, consistent and high standards for these critical positions. So for all those reasons, this is a good move in the right direction.”

O’Scanlon said he’d sponsor a bill to complement Johnson’s measure in the state Senate. Both houses would have to approve the same bill before it is sent to Gov. Phil Murphy. A spokesperson for the governor declined to comment on the pending legislation.

The Network’s work on police accountability issues has spurred action from each branch government. A Network lawsuit prompted a judge to rule in favor of revealing a killer cop’s secret internal affairs file to the public.

Network reporting prompted New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to implement random drug testing for all police departments and an internal affairs reform. Following other Network investigations, Grewal strengthened requirements for examining witnesses and tracking damning information about cops involved in state prosecutions and his office said a working group was formed to review police academy physical testing requirements that cause women police recruits to fail far more often than men.