New Jersey AG to create new system for holding problem cops accountable

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Wednesday that his office will create a new system for keeping police officers accountable when they use force during arrests.

The announcement, made in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, comes roughly two months after the Newark Star-Ledger/ published a troubling database of every police use-of-force incident in the state between 2012 and 2016.

“Over the last 17 months, that newspaper put together a model of what we should be doing. And so, we are committed to working as a coalition to build a use of force reporting system in this state that can stand as a model to other states,” said Grewal during a community meeting held at Union Baptist Temple in Bridgeton, adding that his office hopes to buy the newspaper’s data.

“The Force Report” found that local police departments in New Jersey “tend to use” force — which ranges from placing a combative suspect in handcuffs to shooting one — during about three percent of all arrests.  However, statewide, the analysis revealed that a black person was more than three times more likely to face police force than a white person.

Black people were also more than likely to be injured or hospitalized by police, despite being less likely to “threaten police verbally or physically during a use-of-force incident.”

In Bridgeton, police used force during roughly three percent of all arrests. During Wednesday night’s wide-ranging meeting, Chief of Police Michael Gaimari called the statistic “remarkable.”

However, police used force on black suspects 62.4 percent of the time while using force on white suspects 28.5 percent of the time, according to the analysis.

In neighboring Millville, police were more than twice as likely to use force on blacks suspects as white suspects.

After giving Audra Capps a sobriety test in February 2018, dashboard camera footage from Officer Joseph Dixon’s cruiser shows him lifting her up and throwing her on the ground.

Capps has said she plans to file a lawsuit against Dixon.

“People are dying right now. Mothers are losing their children right now because it’s being ignored. When is it going to stop?” said Steve Young, president of the South Jersey chapter of the National Action Network, in a room largely filled with African-Americans.

The Star-Ledger report discovered that systems for reporting use-of-force incidents are a “mess,” and that the state does a poor job of tracking problem officers who use “disproportionately high amounts of force.”

In March, Grewal announced an “early warning system” that would require police departments — state, county and municipal —  to monitor officer behavior with the goal of detecting “patterns and trends in police conduct before that conduct escalates.”

The system has been criticized because use-of-force incidents must be ruled “excessive, unjustified, or unreasonable” by a court or an internal investigation to be considered a violation.

On Wednesday, residents expressed skepticism that the attorney general’s forthcoming effort would make a difference.

“The fish that you’re trying to catch, I don’t know if they make a hook big enough,” said resident Steven Jones.

In response, Grewal offered an answer he repeated throughout the night.

“It’s a systemic problem, it’s a historical issue, and we’re working hard to restore that trust and restore that accountability,” he said.

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