In the world of Public Employee Discipline as it pertains to New Jersey municipal police officers, we often turn to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147, or more commonly referred to as the “45 day rule", in ensuring that municipalities act within a reasonable time frame in bringing disciplinary charges against public safety officers. The New Jersey Attorney General’s Guidelines provide that pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147, disciplinary charges alleging a violation of the agency’s rules and regulations must be filed within 45 days of the date the person filing the charge obtained sufficient information to file the charge. Specifically, N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 states that, a “Complaint charging a violation of the internal rules and regulations… shall be filed no later than the 45th day after the date on which person filing the complaint obtained sufficient information to file the matter upon which the complaint is based.”
Many municipalities, police departments, and collective bargaining units have interpreted N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 as being applicable to all disciplinary charges and alleged misconduct whether the same violated internal rules, regulations, or procedures or in the alternative fell under misconduct as defined under Title 4A of the New Jersey Administrative Code, or 2C criminal misconduct. However, the world of police discipline as we used to understanding it no longer exists. The Appellate division has clarified N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147.
In the case of McElwee v. Borough of Fieldsboro, A-1230-06T3, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division opined that N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147’s time limit for bringing disciplinary charges against an employee does not apply when the charges are based on misconduct grounded in title 4A of the New Jersey Administrative Code, nor 2C of the New Jersey Criminal Code. Thus, municipalities may take their time in charging alleged misconduct and do not have to adhere to the “45 day” rule so long as the alleged misconduct is grounded in title 4A of the New Jersey Administrative Code or 2C of the New Jersey Criminal Code.
It appears that the only way collective bargaining units can now broaden the scope of N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 is to include a contractual clause in collective bargaining agreements that places time restraints on “all disciplinary charges”. The bottom line is that the protection New Jersey municipal police officers once enjoyed under N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 is not as broadly defined as it used to be.