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McKnight, Wimberly & Sumter Bill to Create Civilian Review Boards in All NJ Municipalities Clears Assembly Community Development Panel

Legislation to provide resident input in police matters involving abuse or use of excessive force—sponsored by Assembly members Angela McKnight (D-Hudson), Benjie Wimberly, and Shavonda Sumter (Both D-Bergen, Passaic)  — cleared the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee Wednesday.

“This is truly a piece of legislation designed by the community, for the community. We involved police, community members, advocacy groups, community leaders, municipalities, and clergy.  The participation of these stakeholders ensures that we have legislation that is strong, powerful, inclusive, and represents the voices of the people,” said McKnight in her testimony to the committee. “The bill emerged out of the Black Lives Matter Movement’s call for justice after the death of George Floyd. After witnessing the video footage of this unfortunate and unnecessary loss of human life, I could not stand by; do nothing, and hope that this doesn’t happen to a citizen in New Jersey. I introduced this legislation to increase transparency and accountability between law enforcement agencies and the communities that they have sworn to protect and serve.”

The bill (A-4656) would establish a civilian review board in every municipality to review and investigate complaints against members of the police force of the municipality. In those municipalities that have State Police serve in the role of the municipal police force, the civilian review board would review and investigate complaints against members of the State Police serving in that capacity within the municipality.

“We have fought long and hard for equality and justice for our communities,” said Wimberly.  “Witnessing the many public and unjustified incidents of brutality and violence against black men and women across the country in the last year, we are called upon to take a different approach to ensure equality for all under the law. There should be a platform for which communities can have their say on the issues and concerns affecting their livelihoods.”

The bill appropriates $800,000 to the State Attorney General (AG) to fund a required civilian complaint review board training course for Board members.

“This legislation is a part of a larger effort by the Assembly to enact impactful social justice reform long overdue throughout the state,” said Sumter, who is chair of the Assembly Community Development Committee. “A civilian review board is an opportunity to bring everyone to one table to provide an avenue for residents’ insight and input from the community-at-large on incidents of misconduct that have historically gone unaddressed. It also aims to foster more productive and positive relations between police and communities, wherever they serve.”

Four City Mayors testified in support of the bill, including the Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark, who last year established a civilian police review board after federal authorities discovered police abuse and use of excessive force in its department.

It will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.