Internal Affairs complaints in New Jersey are often not disclosed to the public. In 2014, John Paff, the head of the NJ Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project requested info on complaints against correction officers who work at the Bergen County Jail. The response provided redacted the names of all the correction officer employees. His lawsuit against County resulted in Bergen County being forced to identify the officers.
In 2017 the Libertarians for Transparent Government sued the NJ State Police seeking the name of an officer who was fired for racially offensive behavior. As a result of this case and the George Floyd murder and outrage, a Law Enforcement directive was given by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal that required agencies to disclose the identities of officers who commit serious disciplinary violations. This was a reversal of a decades long policy.
Several police unions have sued to have the directive overturned. On June 7th of this year the NJ Supreme Court has ruled that officers subjected to “major discipline” can be identified. Still pending is whether Grewal’s order will allow for the release of names for matters prior to his directives.
There is a common practice for municipalities and government agencies to settle accusations of misconduct. These settlement agreements often contain a confidentiality clause that prevent those involved from publicly disclosing what occurred. Even when a public employee is fired for misconduct, they often go on to another government job. Much of what the Libertarians for Transparent Government does is seek out and publicize these settlements at transparencynj.com.
One example is Ryan Dubiel. At the age of 31, on his 9th job as a police officer, he has been charged with simple assault. The New York Times reported that he has a lengthy history of using force against unarmed people.
Many of these problems are compounded by the court invented doctrine of Qualified Immunity. Qualified immunity places officers and government employees above the law that they are enforcing. New Jersey should follow the lead of Colorado and New Mexico and legislatively curtail the use of qualified immunity for government officials. In addition, police officers should be required to have liability insurance. NJ Assembly Bill A4578 aims to curtail the use of qualified immunity. In New York, Assembly bill A2462 will require all New York police officers to carry personal liability insurance.