Jersey City Council pushes for police transparency

Adopts resolutions in support of state bills for CCRBs and public access to police disciplinary records

The Jersey City Council adopted two resolutions with an 8-0-1 vote in support of Assemblywoman Angela McKnight's bill allowing municipalities to create strong Civilian Complaint Review Boards and Senator Loretta Weinberg's bill that would allow the public to request police disciplinary records.
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The Jersey City Council adopted two resolutions with an 8-0-1 vote in support of Assemblywoman Angela McKnight's bill allowing municipalities to create strong Civilian Complaint Review Boards and Senator Loretta Weinberg's bill that would allow the public to request police disciplinary records.

The Jersey City Council has adopted a resolution supporting the creation of a civilian complaint review board once Assemblywoman Angela McKnight’s bill is adopted at the state level.

That bill would allow municipalities to create CCRBs that would have subpoena power, the ability to conduct concurrent investigations, and funding for training.

The council resolution comes after Jersey City Council members James Solomon and Denise Ridley withdrew their ordinance to create a local Civilian Complaint Review Board from the Feb. 24 council agenda.

“We are where we are for a variety of reasons,” said Solomon. “There’s been Supreme Court rulings and Amicus briefs and legal challenges from the unions and a whole variety of things that have gotten us to this point. I wish we were in a place to be passing a strong ordinance and then waiting for the state to give us the green light to put it into practice, but that isn’t doable at the moment, so just affirming our commitment to move forward with a strong CCRB makes a ton of sense.”

Ordinance stalled

As last presented, the ordinance would have a trigger mechanism to enact a CCRB once state legislation is passed.

The CCRB would have been composed of 11 members. Five seats would be recommended by a committee composed of the three at-Large council members and various community organizations like the Jersey City Anti-violence Coalition Movement, Hudson Partnership CMO, JC NAACP, ACLU –NJ, and Jersey City Together. Nominees for the six other seats would be recommended by each ward councilperson, to ensure geographic representation, which would then be selected by the mayor, and approved by the council.

It would also have subpoena power and be able to investigate individual complaints and police policy and procedure questions.

The CCRB would vote on its findings and make discipline recommendations for each case. The Public Safety Director would retain the final decision-making power over discipline, but he or she must appear before the CCRB and explain the discipline decision if it is different from that which the CCRB recommended.

The CCRB would release data on all aspects of the Jersey City Police Department’s operations to ensure transparency and accountability.

According to Ridley, the city received correspondence from the police union’s attorney stating concerns with the CCRB.

Corporation Counsel Peter Baker said that the local unions question whether the parameters of the CCRB need to be negotiated with the collective bargaining units that comprise the police force before the CCRB is instituted.

“There is certainly a colorable argument to be made that the terms do need to be addressed and the terms of the CCRB would need to be addressed and negotiated with the collective bargaining units prior to the final institution of the CCRB terms,” he said. “It’s our opinion that the city does need to negotiate these matters with the collective bargaining units, PSOA and POBA, prior to codifying specific terms, specific structures etc. of that CCRB.”

Police transparency

With an 8-0-1 vote, the council adopted the resolution to create a strong CCRB with subpoena power once the state legislation is passed.

“I think that this board – if constructed correctly, if set up with people who are trained, if it has input from both police and community- can be a good board for both community and the police because let’s not forget police can also submit claims to this board,” said Ridley. “I am just happy that we will, as a council,  make this commitment today saying that we are going to closely follow what the state is doing and if all laws pass at the state, then we will take proper steps at that time to create a CCRB here in Jersey City.”

The council also adopted a resolution in support of a Senate bill that if adopted will allow the public to access law enforcement disciplinary records as government records.

Currently, New Jersey is one of 21 states where police disciplinary records are confidential, meaning they are not accessible to the public through the Open Public Records Act.

The Senate bill, sponsored by Senator Loretta Weinberg, would make the records available, including complaints, allegations, and charges filed against police officers; transcripts and exhibits from disciplinary trials and hearings; internal affairs records; video recordings, and more.

Several members of the public spoke in favor of both of the resolutions, noting it would help hold police officers accountable and increase transparency.

“Police are given great power and responsibility … I ask that you make sure that power comes with accountability,” said Ward C resident Kevin Bing who is running independently in the municipal election for the Ward C seat.

Gary Spingarn said that in an ideal world, Weinberg’s bill wouldn’t be necessary.

“OPRA was supposed to empower the citizens with this type of information yet police unions fight tooth and nail against a shred of transparency,” he said. I know resolutions aren’t legislation, but it will send a message that Jersey city demands transparency.”

On the CCRB resolution, Chris Gadsden said he prays the exact ordinance previously floated by Solomon and Ridley is the one that will be used in the future.

He also backs the resolution in support of Weinberg’s bill.

“Internal Affairs doesn’t work for Jersey City. It doesn’t work for the public,” said Gadsden. “Please begin the work on the local level after this is passed to create more transparency and a better mechanism to hold people accountable here in Jersey City.”

The council adopted the resolution with an 8-0-1 vote.

Councilman Richard Boggiano abstained on both resolutions.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.