New N.J. dashboard of internal affairs investigations is a good first step, but analysts say more should follow

Analysts say the dashboard showcasing internal affairs cases from law enforcement is a great first step, but suggest more transparency should follow.

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Policy experts are praising a new online dashboard from the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office that allows people to view internal investigations of officers at law enforcement agencies across the state. They call it a good first step that’s helpful to the public, while hoping that more will be done to publicly identify bad cops.

“It’s a good step in the right direction as far as transparency, but accountability must follow,” said Dr. Jason Williams, associate professor of justice studies at Montclair State University. “We have to continue to watch and make sure that we gain…some type of movement in the system.”

Now that the information is more publicly available, Williams wants to know how officials are going to respond to the data.

“Are they going to be compelled to write analyses and then fix their particular municipalities,” he posed. “What are they going to do with this data?”

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Marleina Ubel, a state policy analyst and fellow with New Jersey Policy Perspective, noted that the information about internal investigations was already publicly available, but it was not in an easy-to-access format until this week.

“It was just in separate reports,” she said describing the Internal Affairs Annual Summary Reports, adding that “it wasn’t easy to navigate.”

Ubel said it was great to have a database that is easy to navigate and very comprehensive. She would also like to see the Legislature follow the lead of the Attorney General’s Office in transparency and pass a bill that would make disciplinary records of any law enforcement officer available to the public and require those records to be maintained for at least 20 years.

“I think it gives the public power to hold police accountable in a way that they just haven’t been able to do previously,” she added.

More information please

Information in the Internal Affairs (IA) database will be updated annually. It includes information about active and closed investigations and can be filtered by county, agency, the complaint source, and the race of the officers and the complainants involved. Two agencies can be compared side-by-side. The names of the officers involved are not listed.

Williams said he would love to see more detailed information to provide context about the data, and items like interviews, videos, and excerpts from reports.

“I think most people probably can understand [the data] to some degree,” he said. “But then you may have some who are more so…audio/visual variety of people and I think the quality and the variety of data would be most suitable for that.” Williams conceded that legal implications may prevent that.

Ubel would like to see more defined information in the database. For example, more than half of the allegations listed on the database are categorized as “other rule violations,” which could include vastly different areas like fitness for duty or DUI.

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“They can classify [internal affairs investigations] as they choose,” she said. “We don’t really have a true window into the way these things operate as the public…We’ll never really understand what that other category is.”

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