To ensure law enforcement agencies are best equipped when hiring officers, legislation sponsored by Assemblymen Gordon Johnson, Jamel Holley, Herb Conaway and Benjie Wimberly was signed into law by the Governor on Wednesday.
Under the new law (A-744), law enforcement agencies will be required to request and receive internal affairs and personnel files of law enforcement officers who are prospective candidates for employment.
The law will codify certain revisions made to Internal Affairs Policy and Procedures by the Attorney General’s Law Enforcement Directive No. 2019-5, which require police departments to facilitate the sharing of disciplinary history on candidates. Changes made under this Directive took effect in April.
Sponsors of the bill released the following statements:
Assemblyman Gordon M. Johnson (D-Bergen): “Operating with minimal information does more harm than good when it comes to hiring an officer charged to serve and protect. With this law, we intend to give departments and jurisdictions all the information they need to determine if an applicant is the right fit. For us to reform police culture, we must ensure agencies are first aware of any disciplinary history.”
Assemblyman Jamel C. Holley (D-Union): “There needs to be more accountability. If an officer faces disciplinary action within one agency in one town and can easily move on to another agency in a different town without their record following them, we have an accountability problem. Making sure agencies aren’t kept in the dark about the background of candidates – good or bad – is what this law does. This is critical in our efforts to rebuild trust in law enforcement.”
Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington): “Ensuring departments have access to the personnel records they need to bring a new officer on board is about trust and confidence. Law enforcement officers are sent into the community every day and while most adhere to the highest professional standards, others may not. If that’s the case, departments need to know.”
Assemblyman Benjie E. Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic): “To strengthen the view of police as a force for good in the community, policies requiring disciplinary histories to be shared must be status quo. Most officers spend their entire career acting honorably, but to maintain accountability, policy has to acknowledge the potential for bad actors to exist.”
The new law will also deem any future contract provision prohibiting a law enforcement agency from providing files, including internal affairs and personnel files, to another agency as unenforceable and against public policy. The files transferred are, however, to remain confidential and cannot be disclosed to another party.
The law takes effect immediately.