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Report on NJ Police Misconduct Shows Disparities in Cop Discipline

A new report intended to increase transparency around police misconduct in New Jersey instead underscored the disparities in discipline that persist statewide, according to News From the States. The attorney general’s annual report on major discipline, now in its second full year, showed some officers getting the same discipline for vastly different offenses, while in other cases, punishment differed widely between officers charged with the same offense. Critics say the report fails as a transparency measure because it lacks the details and context that could reveal why the disparities exist. Richard Rivera, the director of the Penns Grove Police Department, has for years advocated for increased transparency regarding police discipline. “Why does one officer get a certain punishment while another officer gets harsher punishment for the same exact infraction?” Rivera said. “These are things that police chiefs need to explain, and they’re just simply not doing it.” Rivera and other police watchdogs have called on state policymakers to make police misconduct records public, as they are in 19 other states.

Discipline disparities arise because there’s an inherent conflict of interest in police policing themselves, Rivera said. That’s why Rivera and others have urged officials to create civilian review boards to investigate misconduct allegations, as other states have done. The report showed that some officers resign or retire rather than face punishment. At the same time, the report hides trends that critics say deserve attention, such as how often discipline gets reduced in deals cut with bosses or reversed by arbitrators, civil service boards, and grievance panels. The discipline report sheds no light on any policy changes or retraining or other rehabilitative measures taken in response to officers’ transgressions. That’s a problem, according to Lauren Bonds of the National Police Accountability Project. The public deserves to know “whether there’s any kind of self-reflection on the part of leadership about who are we hiring and what is the quality of the training and the policies we’re providing in the first place that would result in these types of misconduct,” Bonds said. Her group also supports a national police misconduct database to ensure that problem cops don’t hop undetected to other jurisdictions. Such a database, which exists in the United Kingdom, is even more important at a time when the policing profession is struggling to recruit and retain officers, Bonds added.

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