As reported by nj.com, the internal affairs functions of every law enforcement agency in New Jersey would be transferred to the Attorney General’s Office under a bill proposed by an assemblyman, who contends politics and bias too often creep into investigations when police departments police themselves.
Assemblyman Peter Barnes III (D-Middlesex), the son of a retired FBI agent, said he has long considered such a measure but decided to move forward after a two-part Star-Ledger series on the troubled Edison Police Department. Part of the newspaper’s series dealt with the internal affairs unit. Barnes, a former councilman, said that when police officers investigate colleagues, they can be too easily swayed by preconceptions about fellow cops.
“When you have officers investigating their own, it can lead to two divergent problems,” Barnes said. “You can have officers whitewashing legitimate claims because of friendships and relationships that develop. You can also have retaliatory-type claims. There might be a grudge or people vying for promotions, and one of them is in IA. I’ve never felt that was a good idea.”
The measure, which Barnes said he will introduce next month, calls for the creation of a new unit within the Attorney General’s Office and the hiring of investigators to staff it. The assemblyman said he knows the proposal will be controversial and, initially, costly. But, he contends that by centralizing IA functions, local and county internal affairs officers would be free to work in other areas of their departments, bolstering public safety. Most important, he said, it would strengthen the integrity of the internal affairs process, insulating it from intimidation or coercion.
Law enforcement officials called Barnes’ idea interesting, but said it would be very difficult to implement. New Jersey has some 30,000 police officers who work in more than 400 law enforcement agencies, said Raymond Hayducka, president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police. That’s a lot of ground to cover for a single agency he said.
By statute, internal affairs investigations also have time constraints. Once investigators have developed enough information to substantiate a claim of wrongdoing, officers must be charged administratively within 45 days. Under those rules, the new unit could not afford a backlog of investigations, Hayducka said, adding he would still be interested in reviewing the measure.