Two police unions filed a suit against Jersey City and the Jersey City Council over the council’s proposal to create a Civilian Complaint Review Board once permitted by the state.
In April, the council adopted a resolution supporting the creation of such a 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 attempted to adopt an ordinance to create a local CCRB once the state bill is adopted, but sponsors Ward E Councilman James Solomon and Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley withdrew their ordinance from the Feb. 24 council agenda.
According to Ridley, the city received correspondence from the police union’s attorney stating concerns with the CCRB, which is why it was withdrawn, and instead, a resolution was put forward and adopted.
In the April 22 filing, the Jersey City Police Superior Officer’s Association and the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association seek to have the resolution declared unlawful, as well as injunctive relief and compensatory damages.
The adopted resolution
As adopted by the city council, the resolution states that the city believes a CCRB should have the power to receive and subpoena documents, witnesses, and investigate, hear, and make findings and recommended actions upon complaints by the public against members of the police department that allege misconduct involving excessive use of force, abuse of authority, discourtesy, or use of offensive language.
It also states that the city believes a board should have the power to investigate, hear, and make findings and recommend actions regarding the truthfulness of any official statement made by a member of the police department who is the subject of a complaint.
It further adds that the city believes a CCRB as described in the assembly bill is “essential in order to promote transparency and public confidence in the police disciplinary process.”
It states that once the Assembly bill is adopted and signed by the governor that Jersey City will pass an ordinance amending the city code to create a CCRB consistent with the bill.
Too broad and vague
According to the suit, the JCPSOA and JCPOBA are arguing that they have been denied due process.
“The members of plaintiffs’ police organizations have been denied both substantive as well as procedural Due Process where the adoption procedures utilized by the governing body neither provide notice nor identify any defined process for police department personnel investigations undertaken by private persons appointed through the new resolution to the new civilian board,” it states.
It also claims that the resolution is too vague.
“The resolution is so facially vague in scope such that no person can reasonably ascertain the substance or scope of its intended consequence of the scope of the municipal authority sought to be delegated by such resolution to any contemplated board, person, or similar authority,” states the union’s attorney in the filing.
Attorney Michael Bukosky, of Loccke, Correia, & Bukosky, argues in the court filing that the council did not support its justification that the resolution was essential to promote transparency and public confidence in the police disciplinary process with facts.
“No factual record was developed or referred to by the Jersey City Council to support this conclusion or the need to change the current use of the internal police investigator process other than alleged general police misconduct issues that have not been factually demonstrated in Jersey City,” states the filing.
He also states that the resolution is too broad and lacks specifics.
”The petitioner unions have not been provided with the substantive content of procedures which would underlie a CCRB hearing, the criteria for review, the level of training that each board member will be required to achieve in order to properly review matters and an explanation on how reviews of Internal Affairs matters will be affected by a CCRB or whether there would be any potential appeal of any CCRB decisions,” he wrote.
‘A simple commitment’
Mayor Steven Fulop and Councilman Solomon responded to the lawsuit on social media.
“Accountability should not be the enemy of the police, and a lawsuit here doesn’t reflect well on rhetoric from police unions on their willingness to be a partner in improving law enforcement,” said Fulop in a Tweet.
“It’s absurd that the police unions are suing the city over a simple commitment to a strong CCRB,” said Solomon. “It reinforces the need for an independent, progressive voice on the City Council to fight special interest groups’ resistance to real accountability for police misconduct in [Jersey City].”