Shooting Response Team/Use of Force Investigations
INDEPENDENT PROSECUTOR DIRECTIVE
In December 2019, the New Jersey Attorney General announced the “Excellence in Policing” Initiative to promote professionalism, accountability, and transparency in law enforcement. The initiative included new statewide policies regarding officer-involved shootings, internal affairs investigations, disclosure of exculpatory evidence, and other policing issues. Further information on the initiative may be found at: https://www.nj.gov/oag/excellence/
AG Directive 2019-4: Independent Prosecutor Directive was issued as part of the initiative. The Independent Prosecutor Directive outlines a 10-step process for conducting independent investigations of use-of-force and death-in-custody incidents in compliance with state law. The directive establishes clear procedures governing such investigations to ensure that they are done fully, fairly, and independently of any potential bias.
This directive comprehensively addresses the process for conducting independent investigations of use-of-force and death-in-custody incidents, thereby consolidating three existing directives—AG Directive 2006-5, its 2015 supplement, and AG Directive 2018-1—alongside new procedures for compliance with the new independent prosecutor bill signed by Governor Murphy in January 2019. The new directive is organized around a “ten-step process,” from the initial notifications of the incident to the announcement of criminal charges and any referral for administrative review. As part of this process, the directive formally transfers investigative and prosecutorial responsibility for fatal cases from the Division of Criminal Justice to the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. Additionally, this directive expands the scope of the disclosure policies established in AG Directive 2018-1, creating a presumption in favor of publicly releasing any video footage that documents a serious use-of-force or death-in-custody incident covered by the new directive. The new disclosure rules include the release of any third-party footage captured by a surveillance camera or a civilian’s smartphone and later obtained by law enforcement during the investigation.
A summary of the 10-step process is available at: https://www.nj.gov/oag/excellence/docs/The-Independent-Prosecutor-Directive.pdf
A full version of the Independent Prosecutor Directive is available at: https://www.nj.gov/oag/excellence/docs/2019-4_Independent_Prosecutor_Directive.pdf
PCPO SHOOTING RESPONSE TEAM
Police officers may be required to respond to situations where they use their service firearm or other forms of physical force in response to threatened or actual attacks. If a police officer’s response involves death or serious bodily injury, any use of deadly force (including the discharge of that officer’s firearm), the death of a civilian during an encounter with a law enforcement officer, or the death of a civilian while in custody of law enforcement, the incident is investigated in compliance with State law and the New Jersey Attorney General’s Independent Prosecutor Directive.
When appropriate under the Independent Prosecutor Directive, the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office Shooting Response Team is tasked with conducting investigations to ascertain whether the force used was justified, legal and proper pursuant to established use of force guidelines. This team is comprised of dedicated, experienced investigative and legal staff who strive to conduct independent investigations fairly, expeditiously, thoroughly and impartially in accordance with governing State law and Attorney General Directives. The Shooting Response Team must balance the equally crucial goals of public transparency with the need to protect the integrity of the investigation in response to public or press inquiries relating to specific details while an investigation is active. In appropriate cases, the evidence is presented to the Grand Jury for a determination as to whether the conduct of the police officer should be the subject of criminal charges, or whether the police officer was justified in using deadly force.
USE OF FORCE
On June 2, 2020, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal outlined plans for revising New Jersey's “Use of Force Policy,” which governs when a police officer in New Jersey may—and may not—use force against civilians. As part of that process, Attorney General Grewal announced that his office has launched an online portal for public comments and will be organizing community listening sessions in all 21 counties.
The public comment portal, available at nj.gov/oag/force, will accept submissions through August 1, 2020. The portal allows residents to submit comments about any aspect of the Use of Force Policy, but specifically requests input on topics that will be discussed as part of the revision process, including:
- Specific tactics designed to subdue a subject (e.g., chokeholds, neck restraints, strikes to the head and face, use of police dogs);
- Engaging subjects with serious mental illness or substance abuse issues;
- Exhausting all other reasonable means (e.g., verbal warnings) and pursuing de-escalation before resorting to deadly force;
- Applying force proportionate to the subject’s alleged conduct (e.g., limiting the use of force when the subject has committed a non-violent offense);
- Less-than-lethal uses of force (e.g., bean bag shots, rubber bullets, disabling netting);
- Duty to intervene when another officer engages in excessive use of force;
- Firing a weapon at a moving vehicle;
- High-speed car pursuits;
- Reporting and training requirements; and
- Any other proposals that reduce the risk of injury and death to civilians while maintaining the safety of police officers.
The New Jersey’s current Use of Force Policy is available at this link:
Additionally, over the past several years law enforcement officers throughout Passaic County have received training in de-escalation, cultural awareness and implicit bias. Building on a longstanding history of crisis intervention training in Passaic County, the Paterson Police Department is also a pilot department in a statewide expansion of Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training, which can help when officers respond to situations involving individuals with mental health issues.
VIRTUAL TOWN HALLS
Listening Session: Use of Force Policy (6-24-20)
Event Description: “Join Attorney General Grewal for a discussion on New Jersey’s existing Use of Force Policy and what changes have occurred in policing over the past 20 years. Learn how members of the public can weigh in on New Jersey’s revision process. Together, we can create community-informed policing policies in our great state.” (https://www.nj.gov/oag/2121/pdfs/21-21-Event_2020-0624_TownHall.pdf)
Recording of Event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqISCCBjDIg
Let’s Talk About It: Building Police Community Trust Across New Jersey (6-3-20)
Event Description: “Join Governor Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal for a candid conversation on investigating officer involved shootings and other use-of-force incidents, strengthening trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve, and promoting a culture of professionalism, accountability, and transparency among New Jersey’s law enforcement community.”
Recording of Event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIFwHYJM-A4