Police misconduct in NJ: State to track bad cops after report, but loopholes remain

New Jersey closed more gaps in police oversight, giving bad cops fewer places to hide after the attorney general issued a new policy Tuesday.

The policing reform follows a series of investigative reports by the Asbury Park Press and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s policy strengthens the way state prosecutors examine witnesses before they testify in court and establishes a way to track damning information about cops. 

The Network informed a prosecutor’s office a cop they fought to fire was still out making arrests and detailed how a man’s life was ruined by an allegation made by a cop found to have lied. The Network found gaps across the state in the way police departments and county prosecutors keep track of information on troubled cops.

Grewal’s policy addresses some of those gaps for state law enforcement, including the New Jersey State Police and the insurance fraud prosecutor — the policy is posted at the bottom of this story.

But Grewal stopped short of issuing a command for every county prosecutor in the state, though he previously implemented such sweeping changes as recommended by Network reporting on police accountability: random drug testing for all police officers and an internal affairs reform.

“I think it’s an important first step,” Grewal said Wednesday of the policy, which addresses a prosecutor’s duty to turn over information that would help the defense, a duty sometimes called their “Brady” or “Giglio” obligation, named after U.S. Supreme Court cases.

“Brady and Giglio have been the law for over 40 years and we wanted to have a system by which we could track information related to individual officers and comply with our Brady and Giglio obligations in court,” Grewal said in the video above. “And like anything else, we want to make sure we get it right before we roll it out statewide.” 

Grewal noted that some prosecutor’s offices have similar policies and said this is an issue his office has worked on since he was appointed in January 2018.

The president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association was critical of the new rules. 

“We’re concerned for the rights of our members,” said Wayne Blanchard. 

He complimented the attorney general’s office for discussing the policy with them beforehand. 

“But nonetheless the policy, I believe, still ended up very one-sided,” Blanchard said.

At the start of a case, Grewal’s policy requires state prosecutors to have a “candid conversation” with investigators including eight scripted questions, summarized here:

  1. Are you aware of any allegations or findings by a court or prosecutor that reflect upon your truthfulness or bias, including a finding of lack of candor?
  2. Have you ever been arrested, charged with or convicted of a criminal offense, including DUI? 
  3. Are you aware of any past complaints relating to the performance of your official duties?
  4. Have you ever been terminated from a law enforcement job or resigned while an investigation of you was pending?
  5. Are you aware of any media reports or other publicity where your name was mentioned in connection with alleged misconduct that occurred while you were on or off duty?
  6. Have you ever been a party to any civil lawsuit or bankruptcy action in which your honesty, integrity, credibility, or bias were the subject of a public filing or court order?
  7. Have you had a close personal relationship with someone involved in this case that could be viewed as undermining your objectivity? 
  8. Could any of your social media posts be used to question your credibility?

State prosecutors are required to exchange information with a state liaison who keeps track of issues with witnesses.

After questioning their investigators and requesting records from the state liaison, state prosecutors have three choices: they can choose not to turn over in court any information they compiled, they can give it to a judge to decide whether the defense should see it, or they could give it directly to the defense.

Grewal’s new policy outlines some things that could count as information that could be turned over, like a finding of lies or bias.

But the policy ultimately allows the prosecutor to decide what should be disclosed.