NJ attorney general endorses statewide police-licensing program; use-of-force policies to be updated

New Jersey
Virus Outbreak Enforcing Social Distance

A Newark police officer uses his car megaphone to encourage social distancing at an intersection in Newark, N.J., Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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NEW JERSEY — As protests over the death of George Floyd continue nationwide, New Jersey’s attorney general endorsed having a statewide police-licensing program as the state update its use-of-force policies for the first time in 20 years, officials announced Tuesday.

State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal joined Gov. Phil Murphy during his daily coronavirus briefing to outline the steps the state is taking to heal breaches of trust in the state’s communities of color.

“The pain and fatigue felt by many in our black and brown communities is real and palpable. It is an experience that many people – myself included – will never know firsthand. It is the pain and fatigue of decades, and generations, of inequality and systemic racism,” Murphy said.

Grewal expressed anger and outrage over the police custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“Mr. Floyd’s death reminds us that our country has a long way to go. Not only in healing our nation’s racial divides, but also in addressing the systemic and implicit biases that affect all Americans,” Grewal said.

Under Grewal’s direction, New Jersey has become a national leader in community policing, according to Murphy.

The attorney general then outlined several steps his office is taking amid growing frustration in communities of color statewide.

In December, New Jersey launched the “Excellence in Policing” initiative, which promotes the culture of professionalism, accountability, and transparency of the state’s police departments, Grewal said.

A pilot program is expected to be launched and will expand its crisis intervention team initiative in cities like Paterson, Trenton, Melville and Atlantic City. Grewal hopes the program will eventually expand statewide.

An incident response team will also be created within the attorney general’s division on civil rights. According to Grewal, it will be modeled on similar programs from the Department of Justice during the Obama-era where the team will be deployed to towns to help diffuse tensions and heal the community.

Grewal also said he would vote in favor of establishing a statewide training and licensing program for police officers, which would be similar to how medical professionals need to be licensed to practice medicine.

“Just as we license doctors, nurses, lawyers, hundreds of other professionals, we must ensure that officers meet a baseline level of professionalism,” he said.

This licensing program would include all officers, regardless of municipality.

The state will also update its use-of-force policies. New rules will be issued by the end of 2020 — policies were last updated in 2000. “A lot has changed in policing in the past 20 years,” the attorney general added. The government will receive input from community members and incorporate data from the new use-of-force portal.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets across the national in response to police killings of black people in recent days, following the death of 46-year-old Floyd.

Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest. Video of the incident where he can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe” reignited outrage over the deaths of people of color at the hands of police officers.

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