(TRENTON) – Three bills encouraging greater inclusivity among New Jersey law enforcement officers sponsored by Assembly members Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Angela McKnight, Gordon Johnson, and Linda Carter were released by the Assembly Community Development Committee on Wednesday.
“Decades of systemic racism, inequality, and mistrust of law enforcement by the black community was further exacerbated last year by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the public incidents of police brutality,” said Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon), who sponsors all three bills. “Communities, while battling a historic public health crisis, gathered in protest after the public deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor and reignited a call for justice and fair policing around the country. These three bills were introduced in the spirit of social justice and equality. Promoting diversity with a focus on mentoring and recruitment of women and minorities in law enforcement is an important step. It will help foster better relations in all communities.”
One of the measures, (A-4517) sponsored also by Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson would require Civil Service Commission to establish a mentoring program for minority civil service law enforcement applicants. The commission will develop criteria to determine eligibility in the program for mentors and mentees. A mentor may be a current or former law enforcement officer in good standing who obtained his or her law enforcement position through the civil service process, or any other person deemed appropriate by the Civil Service Commission.
“The mentoring program will assist law enforcement applicants, women and people of color, through the civil service application and selection process, and help address obstacles unique to their circumstances,” said Assemblywoman McKnight (D-Hudson). “A more diverse cadre of police officers, that reflect all of the communities they serve, will be essential to repair the divide between communities and police. Through mentoring projects and sharing information about civil service practices we can encourage and guide applicants, overcoming barriers to employment.”
A-4542 sponsored by Assembly members Reynolds-Jackson and Johnson would require the Civil Service Commission to undertake various initiatives to increase diversity and inclusivity within law enforcement agencies. The bill directs the Civil Service Commission to conduct an analysis of the racial composition of law enforcement agencies in this State. The goal of the analysis would be to identify the agencies that might benefit most from eliminating the preference in hiring based upon residency.
“More diversity among law enforcement is a matter of equal opportunity and social justice,” said Assemblyman Johnson (D-Bergen). “Legislation such as this can bring more diversity to police forces and other law enforcement agencies by breaking down the barriers that are often institutional obstacles and biases that make it much harder for minorities to join the ranks and to be treated fairly. New Jersey is the most diverse state in the nation and we should have a police force that reflects the residents and communities they patrol.”
A third measure, A-4598, also sponsored by Assemblywoman Carter, would establish an oversight database to aid in the civil service hiring process for law enforcement officers; and require a statewide diversity analysis of law enforcement.
“The database will help ensure the Commission would have all relevant information from all candidates to better understand how new candidates are selected or not selected during the hiring process,” said Assemblywoman Carter (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union). “Keeping track of this process lets us see how we can bolster the hiring of women and minorities to law enforcement positions. Diversity is the key to breaking the decades-long cycle of brutality, the lack of accountability and cultural misunderstanding of our communities by law enforcement.”
The bills will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further review.