After years of advocacy, Jersey City may officially create a Civilian Complaint Review Board to investigate police misconduct, hold officers accountable, ensure transparency, enhance community and police relations, and help change police policies and procedures.
According to Executive Director of the Jersey City Anti-violence Coalition Movement Pamela Johnson and local educator and activist Chris Gadsden, the Jersey City Council will vote on an ordinance to establish a local CCRB during its next meeting on Feb. 24.
“This has been a long journey. We are crossing the finish line here in Jersey City and February 24th might just be a day when we celebrate,” said Gadsden during a virtual community discussion about CCRBs on Feb. 11.
Local and state legislation
A CCRB is “a mechanism that’s created to have some oversight and transparency around issues revolving around police interactions with the community,” said discussion panelist Steven Campos, community resource director for Hudson Partnership CMO.
Panelist Frank “Education” Gilmore noted that this “is not a mechanism to try and punish police officers. This is not a mechanism to try and tarnish the work that they do. This is simply an implementation of a mechanism to say we are going to have oversight, we are going to have accountability at the CCRB level.”
Panelist Mike Noveck, a Gibson Fellow in Public Interest & Constitutional Law, said members of the Jersey City CCRB would be appointed by the mayor and approved by the council.
Six members of the CCRB would be nominated by the six ward council members, five other members would be nominated by a committee composed of the three at-large council people and five people appointed by community groups like the JCACM, Hudson Partnership CMO, JC NAACP, ACLU –NJ, and Jersey City Together.
He also explained that the ordinance would empower Jersey City CCRB to conduct investigations and issue subpoenas if state legislation makes it legal.
Last year, Assemblywoman Angela McKnight introduced a bill that would allow municipalities to create CCRBs that would have subpoena power, the ability to conduct concurrent investigations, and funding for training.
This came after an August decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court that stated that a Newark CCRB could not have subpoena power unless granted by the legislature.
Since then, Newark has filed a petition with the Supreme Court and Jersey City announced it will file an Amicus Brief in support of Newark’s CCRB.
Noveck also noted that the local CCRB would form a disciplinary matrix to ensure officers who commit misconduct are punished in a proportional way.
The CCRB would be empowered to make disciplinary recommendations to the Public Safety Director.
If the director chooses not to follow the recommendations, he would have to speak at a public hearing or issue a public letter explaining why he did not follow the CCRB recommendation.
Now investigations into police misconduct are done under a “shroud of secrecy” according to Noveck.
Currently, investigations of officer misconduct are handled within the JCPD through the Internal Affairs Unit that does not publicly disclose information about its investigations other than summary statistics regarding the number and disposition of complaints.
From 2013 to 2019 Professional Standards Summary Report Forms issued by the Division of Police indicate that the Internal Affairs Unit received 206 excessive-force complaints and sustained two of those complaints; received 51 improper arrest complaints and sustained none of those complaints; and received 49 differential treatment complaints and sustained none of those complaints.
“Right now only police investigate police,” said Johnson. “Under the ordinance the CCRB is fully empowered to conduct its own independent investigation led by its own trained staff …. And the CCRB can also review an IA investigation to make sure on one hand that the IA is not covering up any misconduct … of their colleagues, and on the other hand, the IA is not doing anything in retaliation against police officers-good cops or whistleblowers.”
A long time coming
Local activists have worked towards an independent CCRB for roughly four years, meeting with stakeholders and elected officials on the “reform mechanism.”
“All the advocacy we’ve been doing it didn’t just start in 2020,” said Johnson. “It started way before then and even throughout 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic and in the middle of the crisis nationally with black and brown people being killed by the hands of police, unarmed. So we wanted to make sure we were continuing to press upon that and continuing to meet with stakeholders and our elected officials to get this process done.”
During the discussion, they highlighted several instances of alleged police misconduct through the years on a newly launched website including the Bostwick Avenue incident in May and the 2018 incident in Audubon Park in which a 27-year-old black man, Shiron Cooper, was struck repeatedly by a police officer driving his patrol car.
“Community had no knowledge about the incident widely because it had been covered up for months, and then a resident released a video that they had taken,” said activist Asheenia Johnson highlighting the need for more transparency.
The fight’s not over
Panelists urged the community to continue to advocate for a CCRB and for the adoption of the state legislation that would empower it.
“We are going to fight with Angela McKnight to ensure that the strength we want within the CCRB is going to take place,” said Gadsden. “We want that subpoena power, we want to be able to give it a little more strength.”
They asked residents to call Jersey City council members and to sign up to speak at the next council meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 24.
They urged those who haven’t done so to sign the petition urging Jersey city to create a strong CCRB at https://actionnetwork.org/letters/jersey-city-create-a-strong-independent-police-review-board-now
For more information on the CCRB advocacy go to https://www.ccrbjc.org/