N.J. to require police officers get licenses under new law

Supporters say law will keep bad cops off the force

By: - July 21, 2022 5:26 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy in Secaucus on July 21, 2022, signing a bill that creates a licensing system for New Jersey police officers. (Edwin J. Torres/NJ Governor’s Office)

Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation Thursday making New Jersey the 47th state to adopt a police licensure program that supporters say will improve relations between cops and communities at a time of intense scrutiny of law enforcement.

The law (S2742) creates a licensure process with uniform standards and criteria for hiring, firing, and disciplining officers. The licenses must be renewed every three years, and they require current and would-be officers to pass a psychological exam and complete training courses. It includes a $6 million appropriation.

“Officers holding these licenses will be proven professionals who fulfill their duties with honesty and integrity, helping law enforcement strengthen and rebuild the bonds of trust between police and residents in the communities they serve, especially in our Black and brown communities,” Murphy said at a signing ceremony in Secaucus. 

Under the new law, police officers can lose their licenses if they are convicted of a crime, commit an act of domestic violence, are affiliated with or support groups that call for overthrowing government or discrimination, or commit any offense that precludes them from carrying a weapon. If they lose their license, they can’t work in public safety anywhere in the state. 

While police officers have had to complete training to get the badge, the training was inconsistent from department to department. And a lack of licensure made it difficult to ensure bad cops didn’t jump around the state to new jobs whenever they were disciplined. 

Now, the state Police Training Commission will oversee implementation of the licensure process and report license revocations to a national database to prevent bad cops from getting law enforcement jobs in other states. The commission, composed of 15 members of law enforcement and government officials, will now include four members of the public.

The law applies to current law enforcement officers and any cops joining the ranks. 

The push for police licensing began in July 2020 after a Woodlynne police officer was charged with assault for pepper-spraying two teenagers. The officer, Ryan Dubiel, bounced from department to department, exhibiting a troubling pattern of injuring suspects during arrests but succeeding in getting hired because New Jersey barred agencies from sharing disciplinary records.

While police and criminal justice reform advocates celebrate the move that took years to craft and gain the support to pass, some say the law doesn’t go far enough. 

Amol Sinha, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, noted lawmakers have yet to pass measures that reformers say would enhance accountability and transparency among police: civilian review boards with subpoena power, public disclosure of internal affairs reports, and ending qualified immunity, which protects public officials and law enforcement from civil liability. 

“These are not easy issues to tackle, but it’s necessary that we embrace this hard work because, as we’re seeing today, real progress is achievable when there’s political will and stakeholders willing to collaborate,” Sinha said at the signing ceremony. 

Speaking to reporters following the bill signing, Murphy didn’t comment on whether he’d support the reform proposals Sinah mentioned.

“That’s something for the Legislature to tackle, and let’s not take away from the fact that this is a big, big day in New Jersey,” he said.

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.