As reported by nj.com, after rolling out tougher rules in May for police departments’ internal affairs units, State Attorney General Paula Dow has released new reporting forms that omit a crucial question: How many complaints about police officers are being investigated at the end of each year? The new forms published Tuesday don’t require police departments to list the number of open investigations at year’s end, raising concerns among rights’ advocates that cases will continue to fall off the books, as they have for years.
“The intention with these forms is to provide a snapshot of accountability,” Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for Dow, said yesterday. “That reporting was never intended as a means to track individual cases.” But Deborah Jacobs, executive director of ACLU-NJ, who initially supported Dow’s proposals until she saw the finished product on Tuesday, called it a “huge step backward.” She added, “It’s the more serious internal affairs complaints that take longer to investigate.”
Critics said it was the second time this month that Dow limited access to public data. Earlier this month, she restricted information on overtime compensation for state law enforcement officers. Her office said today she was only codifying a set of legal precedents dating to 2002. Jacobs said there was another problem as well. “We need an attorney general who will stick around for more than a year or two and dig in to fix the serious ongoing police practices issues that the ACLU has been raising for years,” she said.
State and local officials said that despite the omission on the new forms, police departments will have no problems policing their own. Critics said it leaves members of the public out of the loop if they want to track important data that has been consistently spotty for the last decade.
The Attorney General’s Office said that under Dow’s new system, county prosecutors have a more prominent role monitoring internal affairs complaints, analyzing all the numbers and squaring away any discrepancies. Previously, counties have not carried out those duties. The forms in question allow the public to review police departments’ data.
Jacobs did praise other parts of Dow’s new policies. Police departments must now track complaints by officer to watch for patterns; they must devote more resources to training; and they must publicize summaries of the most serious complaints, though they don’t have to name officers. “It is absolutely critical that law enforcement agencies investigate allegations against officers thoroughly and fairly, and that we provide the public with meaningful data about the complaints,” Dow said in May.