By Andrew Ford. Published July 2, 2020.
Bad cops can no longer hide their misdeeds when they’re seeking new law enforcement jobs in New Jersey.
Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Wednesday a police reform inspired by Asbury Park Press reporting that requires police agencies to share an officer’s closely guarded personnel files when that cop is applying to work at a new department.
“Operating with minimal information does more harm than good when it comes to hiring an officer charged to serve and protect,” the bill’s main sponsor, Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson, D-Bergen, said in a statement issued by the governor’s office. “With this legislation, we intend to give departments and jurisdictions all the information they need to determine if an applicant is the right fit. For us to reform police culture, we must ensure agencies are first aware of any disciplinary history.”
Johnson, the Assembly’s speaker pro tempore, credited the Press with inspiring him to file the bill in remarks to the Assembly Monday, underscoring “the importance of having a free press.”
Johnson attended a 2018 public forum on police accountability hosted by the Press, along with Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, who sponsored the bill in the Senate.
The Press exposed police accountability gaps that allowed 68 officers to face discipline and quietly resign, three of whom moved on to new jobs in law enforcement. The officers were frequently protected by secret separation agreements that muzzled departments.
The departments were typically required to guarantee the officer a neutral reference for future employers. They would simply confirm dates of employment for an inquiring police agency and stay silent on allegations of misconduct by the officer.
The law signed Wednesday demolishes such agreements going forward, declaring future contracts that would stop departments from sharing an officer’s files “against public policy and unenforceable.”
Records of an officer’s discipline still remain hidden from the public. But those records would be revealed under reforms proposed in the Senate and Assembly during a wave of concern about police accountability following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
The governor signed the Press-inspired police reform along with two other criminal justice bills. One helps former prisoners receive assistance such as Medicaid, food stamps, and medication. The other speeds up the process of reworking the juvenile justice system.
“I’ve been clear that New Jersey will be as aggressive as any state in the nation in our efforts to reform a criminal justice system that has largely failed our Black and brown communities for far too long,” Murphy said in a statement. “Among other important changes, these measures promote a greater degree of professionalism in law enforcement hiring practices and ensure that young people and formerly incarcerated individuals who are re-entering society are provided with a meaningful chance to reach their full potential.”