New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced Monday updates to the state’s Excellence in Policing initiative, a set of the guidelines which govern the use of force for New Jersey’s nearly 40,000 police officers at the state, county, and local levels.
The updated policy is comprised of seven core principles, the first being “the sanctity of human life and serving the community.” “We are committed to making New Jersey a national leader in policing reform, and today’s actions deliver on that promise,” said Grewal in a press statement. The updates represent New Jersey’s first major policing policy revision since 2000 and address issues with police accountability, professionalism, and transparency. Among other things, the revised policy:
- Bans all forms of physical force against civilians, with the exception of “last resort” efforts and only after officers have already made attempts to de-escalate situations;
- Prohibits all forms of deadly force against civilians—including chokehold and strikes to the neck and head—except as “absolute last resort when the officer reasonably believes that such action is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury; and
- Establishes an affirmative “duty to intervene” that demands all officers, regardless of position, rank, or title, to intervene in observations of other officers engaging in illegal and/or excessive force against civilians.
Grewal also announced several other changes to improve public and law enforcement safety. He issued a state-wide directive allowing for county prosecutors and public working groups to “address police interactions with special needs populations and those living with mental or behavioral health issues.” Grewal also placed new restrictions on the use of police dogs and provided a three-month window for his Office of Public Integrity & Accountability to provide feedback. Finally, Grewal also declared that all of New Jersey’s law enforcement agencies would be required to conduct a close annual analysis of incidents involving officer use of force. This includes over 500 local police departments, 21 county sheriff’s offices, and the State Police.
The announcement comes amid growing support for revised and updated use of force policies across the US. The Americal Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey issued a statement commending the move: “At the core of this directive is an emphasis that law enforcement’s role is to treat all people they encounter with respect and dignity, value the sanctity of life, and work to de-escalate difficult situations,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “This framework, if implemented effectively, could serve to avoid tragic outcomes and protect fundamental rights, particularly in Black and brown communities which often are the subject of over-policing.”
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