Commentary

As move toward transparency, A.G. directive on police discipline is a dud

August 13, 2021 7:02 am

The directive shines barely any more sunlight on misdeeds by New Jersey law enforcement. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

When then-Attorney General Gurbir Grewal last year ordered all New Jersey law enforcement agencies to identify by name their officers who receive serious discipline, he gave himself a pat on the back.

The directive, he said in a statement, showed New Jersey was committed to “a culture of transparency and accountability in law enforcement.”

“Today, we end the practice of protecting the few to the detriment of the many,” Grewal said.

Coming weeks after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd and while the nation was beset with protests demanding police reform, Grewal’s directive appeared to be just what he claimed: an effort to shine a spotlight on the notoriously secretive inner workings of New Jersey law enforcement.

What a disappointment it was, then, to review the files when they began to be released recently and see just how opaque police discipline in New Jersey remains. Monday was the deadline for all agencies to deliver the data to the A.G.’s office and post the information online.

Here’s one example from the data dump: Guttenberg reports Sgt. Leonard Ramirez was suspended for 494 days. The reason? “Currently still suspended with pay.” Helpful! Another: Steve Boudaher, a Bergen County sheriff’s officer, lost 75 days for “violating departmental policies and procedures of his post assignment while on duty.” A third: Camden County Corrections Sgt. Theron Sharper was suspended 45 days because he “failed to properly supervise staff.”

Grewal’s order says agencies must provide “a brief summary” of officers’ transgressions. These descriptions don’t cut it.

To be fair, not every entry appears to obfuscate officers’ misdeeds. Here’s the entry for South Woods State Prison Officer Alfredo Ruiz, who was docked 60 days: “You were observed asleep in the armed mobile 3 post with [the] seat reclined back and your arm over your eyes by a Lt.” Every entry should read like this.

There are more problems. Attorney CJ Griffin, who has criticized Grewal’s directive as not meaningful enough, found entries that indicate some law enforcement agencies are downplaying incidents to protect either the officers or themselves or both.

Griffin noticed that an older report about an incident involving a Jersey City officer said the officer consumed up to 8 beers, shot his gun, and was arrested. He was suspended for 19 days and lost 71 days of accrued time. He was not identified, because that was not required at the time.

When Jersey City was forced by Grewal’s order to release the same information with the officer’s name — Lt. Michael Timmins — here’s what it reported: “Lt. Timmins lost a total of 90 days for violating JCPD Rules and Regulations for; Conduct, Mishandling of a Firearm, Intoxicants Off Duty. Lt. Timmins negligently discharged a firearm while off duty and on his personal property.”

This is troubling. If the idea of Grewal’s order was to bring more sunlight to law enforcement, many of the agencies who responded did not provide the information as ordered. The Attorney General’s Office needs to tell them that is unacceptable so the public can be greater informed by even this minimal step toward transparency.

 

 

 

 

 

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Terrence T. McDonald
Terrence T. McDonald

Editor Terrence T. McDonald is a native New Jerseyan who has worked for newspapers in the Garden State for more than 15 years. He has covered everything from Trenton politics to the smallest of municipal squabbles, exposing public corruption and general malfeasance at every level of government. Terrence won 23 New Jersey Press Association awards and two Tim O’Brien Awards for Investigative Journalism using the Open Public Records Act from the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. One politician forced to resign in disgrace because of Terrence’s reporting called him a "political poison pen journalist.”

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