N.J. Dems call for moving investigation of fatal police encounters from county to state

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney supports  the state's attorney general to begin investigating any fatality that occurs during an encounter with police. (AP file)

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney supports the state's attorney general to begin investigating any fatality that occurs during an encounter with police. (AP file)

Democrats in the New Jersey Senate want the state’s attorney general to begin investigating any fatality that occurs during an encounter with police.

Some people have concerns about conflicts of interest in investigations that are conducted in the county where a fatal encounter with police occurred, said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

“Even when you get cleared, people say you got clear by someone that was close,” he said Friday. “By doing something like this, where there’s a separation, you’re going to have people actually have more trust and faith in the outcome.”

Such a law would help assure residents that each investigation would be handled with fairness and impartiality, said Richard Smith, New Jersey NAACP president.

“This could be historic and a huge victory for families and those of us in the civil rights community who have demanded police accountability for years,” he said. “It may offer some solace to those grieving after years of countless deaths of African-American and Latino victims across the country.”

It’s a critical accountability measure, said Ari Rosmarin with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.

“This is a bill that builds legitimacy in policing. It’s a bill that is a good government bill that strengthens people’s willingness to trust the police and trust the system,” he said. “And I think it’s in all of our interests and the police interest as well to make sure that police feel like they’re getting a fair deal.”

A similar measure failed to advance in the legislature last year; Sweeney said he intends to pass this one.

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