N.J. updates police use-of-force policy for first time in two decades

New Jersey State Police car in Trenton, N.J.

New Jersey State Police car in Trenton, N.J. (Alan Tu/WHYY)

The Garden State announced it will update its use-of-force policy for law enforcement officers with the aim of reducing violent interactions with civilians.

The statewide policy — which was last updated two decades ago — will emphasize de-escalation techniques and prohibit officers from using force except as a last resort.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said it was the first overhaul of its kind in the country.

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“You might see similar policies in individual jurisdictions, but not done in the way we’re doing it statewide with the type of training we’re doing,” Grewal said.

The new use-of-force policy will take effect in 2022, after all of the state’s 38,000 law enforcement officers receive a new scenario-based training on de-escalation techniques and other strategies for limiting the use of force.

Grewal also said the state will launch a public portal where police must report use-of-force incidents within 24 hours that will be reviewed by superior officers and available to the public, a win for criminal justice advocates who have called for more transparency in policing

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“The Attorney General’s use-of-force directive incorporates measures that have extraordinary potential to protect people’s rights and safety, and it creates important accountability requirements for law enforcement,” said ACLU-NJ executive director Amol Sinha, in a statement, “with the understanding that even the strongest use-of-force policies are only as effective as their implementation and enforcement.”

The policy also creates a new “duty to intervene” for police officers who witness a fellow officer using illegal or excessive force.

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