Supreme Court says Attorney General may publicize the names of disciplined cops

Every police department in New Jersey will be required to annually publish the names of officers who were fired, demoted, or suspended for more than five days,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, following the unanimous decision handed down Monday.

The 60-page ruling ends the current controversy over contentious reform measures supported by Grewal and state lawmakers since the police killing of George Floyd over a year ago.

Grewal issued the order last summer, shortly after the police shooting of George Floyd in Minnesota, looking to reverse a longstanding practice of affording “disciplinary privacy” for police in New Jersey. 

It was immediately met with stiff opposition from police unions, which filed the lawsuit.

Officers who were disciplined before 2020 can ask a judge to block the public disclosure.

Police unions argue that revealing bad behavior among officers would only “harass, embarrass, and rehash past incidents during a time of severe anti-law enforcement sentiment.”

“The attorney general had the right to change course and direct that details of future serious disciplinary matters — including the names of the officers disciplined — will be revealed to the public,” wrote Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.

Reform advocates and police unions will now wage their battle on other fronts, seeking advantages in an election year, lobbying over the highly charged bill that would eliminate qualified immunity for officers from civil lawsuits, and creating practical obstacles to full disclosure.

“By lifting the cloak of secrecy over our state’s police disciplinary process, we are not simply ensuring accountability for those who engage in misconduct; we are also demonstrating that the vast majority of law enforcement officers work hard and play by the rules,” said Grewal.

“The Supreme Court’s decision also provides useful guidance on our efforts to address historical instances of officer misconduct within the Department of Law & Public Safety,” said Grewal. “I still hope to move forward with the commitment I made last year: to publish the names of officers who work for our Department – in the New Jersey State Police, the Division of Criminal Justice, and the Juvenile Justice Commission – who were disciplined for serious misconduct at any point in the past two decades. The Court’s opinion includes helpful language about the process we must undertake before releasing that information.”

The Court made clear that the Attorney General possesses broad authority to authorize the disclosure of police disciplinary records on a prospective basis and I am exploring additional steps that we can take to promote public trust,” said Grewal. “In addition, I welcome the opportunity to work with a broad range of stakeholder to develop legislative solutions that promote accountability and transparency. More can and must be done as we work to make New Jersey a national leader in policing reform.”

To learn more about our policing reform efforts, visit njoag.gov/policing.

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