As reported by NJ.com, a bill before the State Legislature would require state authorities to identify police officers involved in fatal shootings and in-custody deaths within 48 hours of the incident. The public notification requirement was added as an amendment to legislation that would put all fatal police shooting investigations under the State’s Attorney General, which was approved by the Senate Budget Committee by a 7-4 vote.
The measure calls for names of every officer present at the scene to be published online except in cases where the Attorney General find such a disclosure “will jeopardize the officer’s safety or the safety of the officer’s immediate family,” according to the proposed text. The bill’s sponsors say the measure will improve public confidence in police shooting investigations by taking them out of the counties in which they occur. Currently, fatal shootings involving local police departments are investigated by county prosecutors, while deaths involving county or state agencies are investigated by a shooting response team at the State Division of Criminal Justice, which is part of the Attorney General’s office. State law also allows the Attorney General, the State’s Chief Law Enforcement Officer, to step in on any investigation where there may by a conflict of interest.
The proposed law would put all fatal shooting and in-custody death investigations under a special unit within the Attorney General’s office. It was met with criticism by representatives of the New Jersey’s police unions, who called it an unnecessary intrusion. Rob Nixon, a lobbyist with the New Jersey State PBA, said the bill “starts with an assumption that’s never been proven: that our county prosecutors are incapable of impartiality in seeking justice when police officers are involved in a shooting.” Nixon also said requiring special prosecutors from the State Attorney General’s Office could undermine fatal shooting investigations by locking county authorities out of the process while they wait for a state investigator to arrive.
Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the measure was meant to eliminate the “perception” of conflicts of interest where county prosecutors are investigating police officers at agencies with whom they regularly work. “To me, it benefits everybody, including police officers,” said Rice, a former member of the Newark Police Department.
The proposed bill now goes before the full Senate for a vote. As such, please continue to check this blog periodically for updates regarding the proposed bill given its potential impact on New Jersey Public Safety Officers.