(Mary Iuvone for New Jersey Monitor)
The Office of the State Comptroller is launching a new project aimed at ferreting out fraud, misconduct, waste, and abuse in law enforcement agencies statewide.
The goal is to uncover systemic problems that can cost taxpayers a bundle when people sue police departments for civil rights violations or other wrongdoing. Researchers also will identify inefficiencies and funding gaps that keep agencies from adopting police reform measures. Findings will be publicly reported.
Attorney Jane Schuster, who spent nine years in the state Attorney General’s Office focused on policing issues, will head the project.
“When reforms are enacted, it is important to give them time to work and then it is good to see what is happening,” acting State Comptroller Kevin D. Walsh said. “Our goal with this project is to focus on reform efforts involving policing, particularly ones that have been implemented in the last couple years. Are new policies being applied consistently across the board? Are the stated goals of laws being realized based on what’s happening on the ground? And if not, why not?”
Schuster will evaluate policies in place for detecting and addressing officer misconduct; assess whether police training programs comply with recent reforms; examine the efficacy of reforms intended to eliminate bias; and review whether agencies are adequately reporting officer misconduct, as the law requires.
“It’s important for New Jerseyans to understand how taxpayer dollars are being spent when it comes to public safety, such as officer training and equipment, along with other big-ticket items like employee benefits,” Walsh said.
The office annually reviews the New Jersey State Police to determine if troopers are complying with laws banning racial profiling. Those reviews also examine trooper misconduct, training, and motor vehicle stops.
There are more than 500 law enforcement agencies statewide. Activists and civil liberties champions have called on state lawmakers in recent years to approve a range of policing reforms, from giving civilian police oversight boards subpoena powers to banning chokeholds to making police internal affairs records public. None passed in the last two-year legislative session, but all have been reintroduced in the current session, which started in January.
Racheal Smith of Salvation and Social Justice applauded the new initiative.
“We do feel that it is a great step in the right direction. We stand behind the comptroller in his efforts to reform policing and increase accountability,” Smith said. “It’s not always popular to do the just thing, but it is always right to do it. It is just to make the police more trusted within the Black and brown community.”
The office encourages tips from the public and law enforcement officers who suspect waste, fraud, or abuse in law enforcement agencies. Tipsters can file a complaint online, by email, or by calling the office’s confidential hotline at 1-855-OSC-TIPS.
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