This has been a high-profile year for New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
In January, barely a month after a worker in Phil Murphy’s election campaign had to go to the media to finally get her sexual assault allegation heard, Grewal cleared the decision not to prosecute her accused fellow campaigner.
Grewal had qualms about details of a law enacted in February requiring his office to investigate all fatal shootings by police. It also required county prosecutor offices to stay clear of shooting scenes and wait for state investigators to arrive. He said the previous system in which county prosecutors handled most investigations and turned them over to the state only if they involved county or state officers was fully effective in preventing conflicts of interest in police-shooting probes.
In March, Grewal’s Immigrant Trust Directive took effect, ordering police not to even ask about an immigrant’s legal status unless it was necessary for the investigation of a serious offense. It also ordered law enforcers to quit cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on the processing of criminals here illegally, unless their case involves a serious or violent crime.
He issued new guidelines in April for law enforcement to follow in handling bias complaints — including an expanded definition of bias incidents — and required police and prosecutors to offer timely and sensitive responses to victims and the community.
In May, Grewal’s office looked around the state and found eight officials who were hired despite convictions that required forfeiting eligibility for such positions. He did so soon after a Murphy administration hire resigned following media reports of his past federal conviction for accepting bribes and corrupt payments.
Then in September, Grewal ordered Cape May and Monmouth counties to quit their long-running 287(g) programs that help their county jails cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement to protect the public from criminally charged or convicted illegal immigrants.
This month he capped Murphy’s law enforcement agenda with five different directives to “root out those small number of cops who engage in misconduct.” The directives target the use of force during arrests, internal affairs probes, evidence rules and police training.
The public will get more access to videos of police encounters and use-of-force rates. Prosecutors must make sure defendants get information about cops who are deemed to have credibility problems. And a revamped Police Training Commission will develop a proposal for requiring police officers to be licensed.
Police departments in six cities — including two in South Jersey, Millville and Bridgeton — will report use of force directly to the attorney general as part of a pilot program. Some of those departments “have had issues,” Grewal said.
Law enforcement reforms are often presented as a way to increase public safety. Not this time. Grewal said these were to increase oversight and accountability, and make New Jersey “a national model for policing in the 21st century.”
The effectiveness and public support for this policing policy overhaul will depend on how it is implemented. It may take a couple of years to gauge its effects.