Mayor Steven M. Fulop and Public Safety Director James Shea have announced that the “Use of Force” General Order for the city Police Department will be amended and clarified to be consistent with best practices, after Fulop signed The Mayor’s Pledge set up by the Obama Foundation.
“I took the pledge last night when President Obama asked mayors to step up, and we are starting on Day 1 with changes and clarification where needed,” said Mayor Fulop. “We have the best police department anywhere in the country and when it is possible to be even better, we will take steps to get there.”
Over the next few weeks the mayor will work in conjunction with the City Council and the community to ensure Jersey City “remains a national leader in regard to policing policy,” according to a press release from the city.
According to the press release, several sections of the Jersey City Police Departments General Orders & Guidelines will be changed including the policy on choke holds and strangleholds, the Duty to Intervene section, and the Requirement of Comprehensive Reporting section, as well as policies regarding use of force, requiring de-escalation, requiring warnings before shooting, and banning shooting at motor vehicles.
The city appears to be following the direction of Campaign Zero’s 8 Can’t Wait project, which highlights eight policies which police departments should follow to decrease police violence.
These changes come in the wake of multiple peaceful protests against racism and police brutality after the murder of George Floyd, an African American man murdered by police in Minneapolis.
The section on choke hold and stranglehold policy will be amended to say the use of choke holds and strangleholds are not recognized tactics as part of the Jersey City Police Department Training, and should “only be used as an absolute last resort in circumstances where no reasonable alternative is available to protect the officer’s safety and/or the safety of another person.”
In the Duty to Intervene section, the language will be amended to state that every officer is required to take “appropriate action in any situation where the officer is clearly convinced that another officer is using force in violation of state law.”
Officers will be obligated to report situations in which force is used illegally by anyone
Officers will be mandated to “do whatever they can to interrupt the flow of events before a fellow officer does something illegal, and before any official action is necessary.”
Comprehensive Reporting guidelines will be changed to require that when physical force, mechanical force, or deadly force is used by an officer, that officer must complete all reports plus a Use of Force Report. A supervisor will be required to respond to the scene of any use of force, when possible, and the department Internal Affairs Bureau will review all use of force reports whether or not a complaint is issued.
In the section on Requiring De-Escalation, officers are instructed to exercise the “utmost restraint” in using force and officers should exhaust all other “reasonable means before resorting to the use of force.”
Police officers are also encouraged to follow The Use of Force Continuum, a set of steps in which an officer would ideally escalate to use of force. However, the general order notes that “the circumstances presented to an officer may dictate the skipping of any number of intermediate steps and immediately may necessitate jumping to a higher step in order to effectively and safely protect him/herself and/or others”
In ascending order, the Use of Force continuum is: presence, followed by verbal commands, a show of non-deadly force such as production of an OC Canister or Impact Weapon, then physical control with “empty hands techniques,” hand held aerosol restraints such as OC Spray, defensive impact weapons, threat of deadly force, conducted energy device, followed lastly by deadly force.
According to the press release outlining the changes, officers must give verbal commands “when practical” before every level of force. But again, the section notes there could be circumstances in when an officer may dictate skipping any number of use of force steps to a higher step in order to safely protect themselves or others.
Last, the guidelines indicate that officers are prohibited from firing their weapons at or from a moving vehicle, or at the driver or occupant of a moving vehicle unless of the officer “reasonably believes there exists an imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm to officers or another person and no other means are available at the time to avert or eliminate danger.”
An officer is also prohibited from firing his or her weapon solely to disable a moving vehicle.