Senate Panel Hears Calls for Police Reform, Culture Change

David Cruz, NJTV News | July 16, 2020 | Social
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka among those making the case for reforms

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is in a unique position to make dramatic change in how police deal with the public and how the public sees the police. At a hearing of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, Grewal tried to encourage a collective seizing of the moment, including reforms that might be uncomfortable for the status quo.

“We’ve mandated in the Internal Affairs policies and procedures that we have now that if you are a New Jersey chief hiring from another department, you have an affirmative obligation to get that Internal Affairs file and personnel file. That never before was required,” he said.

The panel heard from Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who has drawn praise for pushing for reforms in his city, which is under a federal consent decree. Baraka is leading the fight for securing subpoena powers for civilian complaint review boards, a case now before the state Supreme Court.

“I’m the mayor of the largest city in the state, predominately Black and brown. Most of our residents want police officers. They want police officers in their neighborhoods; they want safety, they want security. What they don’t want is their children shot to death in front of recreation centers for playing with water guns, or people choked to death for selling cigarettes, or people with their knee on your neck until you die for $20,” Baraka said.

Former Attorney General Peter Harvey, who’s serving as federal monitor of the Newark Police Department, made a number of recommendations.

“I would submit that there should be an education threshold for any person joining a police force. It should be at least two years because I think that the maturity that comes along with having two years of college can help. I would almost argue four years,” Harvey said.

Republican lawmakers have been feeling pressure to show support for police reforms. Wednesday, their remarks were conciliatory, albeit cautious.

“While we are rightly talking about these reforms, I think it’s incumbent upon all of us to continue to point out the majority of great work that, like you said, 98% great work that our law enforcement community is doing around the state,” said Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Morris).

Trenton has a way of talking issues to death, deliberating and testifying for long enough to move on to the next burning issue. In that regard, NAACP New Jersey State Conference President Richard Smith delivered a very direct message.

“Taking down statues of former slave owners that should have never been put up in the first place, taking down names on buildings on college campuses, banning the Confederate flag, changing the names of sports teams, that’s what they are presently giving to our community. So we cannot get distracted by the crumbs,” Smith said.

Still, Chairwoman Linda Greenstein said more conversation is needed, and she invited Grewal and others back for more of it in the near future, despite all outward signs that the time for more talk has passed.

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