(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Charles Mainor and Gordon Johnson aimed at making law enforcement agencies in New Jersey more representative of the communities they serve was advanced by an Assembly panel on Thursday.
The first bill (A-4849) would require each state, county and local law enforcement agency in New Jersey to establish a minority recruitment and selection program. The programs would ensure that the agencies reflect the diversity of the populations they serve.
“When the makeup of the law enforcement population mirrors that of the general population in a community, people are more likely to have a sense that they can relate to and trust the police,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Diversity is important in all workplace environments, but it’s particularly significant when it comes to a profession that requires regular interaction with the community.”
As per the legislation, the programs would: set goals for recruiting and hiring minorities and women within a specified time frame, describe methods for evaluating whether these goals have been met and establish corrective action to be taken if goals are unmet.
“Hostility between the public and the police in certain communities is a genuine public safety concern,” said Mainor (D-Hudson), a former Jersey City Police Department detective. “Making a concerted effort to recruit more minorities will help foster environments in which police approach community members with more cultural sensitivity and people feel comfortable going to the police when they need help.”
“Effective policing is contingent upon the public’s trust in the law enforcement officers who protect them, and a big part of that lies in the general population feeling understood by the police,” said Johnson (D-Bergen), who formerly served as Bergen County sheriff. “Increasing minority and female representation in law enforcement agencies can help achieve that end. Furthermore, the reporting requirements included in this bill will increase transparency in hiring practices among departments.”
Under the bill, county prosecutors would monitor programs established by county and municipal agencies, and the state attorney general would monitor programs established by the state police and other state law enforcement agencies.
The attorney general would report annually to the governor and the legislature regarding the programs and also publish a summary of the report online.
The bill also would set annual reporting requirements concerning the overall diversity of law enforcement agencies. Each state, county and municipal agency would be required to report on the age, gender, race and ethnicity of: officers currently appointed to the law enforcement agency, officers promoted within the agency in the previous year, applicants appointed to the agency in the previous year and all applicants for a position with the agency in the previous year. Agencies also would be required to report the reasons for denying applicants an appointment to the agency.
The second bill (A-4850) would expand Police Training Commission (PTC) membership to include one member each from the Northern New Jersey and South Jersey chapters of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE). The PTC develops and certifies basic training courses for law enforcement officers at the state, county and local level.
“Improving police-community relations starts with making sure officers receive training that equips them to respond appropriately to all the populations they will serve,” said Wimberly. “NOBLE is an organization that exists to promote fairness in the administration of justice. Including its members on this commission will further New Jersey’s ability to ensure that the rights of all people are respected.”
“It’s critical to have a diverse set of voices in the room setting the standards for what constitutes good policing,” said Mainor. “NOBLE members will bring to the table years of experience with law enforcement issues and concerns that impact minority communities.”
“NOBLE emphasizes greater inclusion and diversity at all levels of law enforcement, and its members recognize the significance of cultural sensitivity in policing,” said Johnson. “Adding members to this commission who are aware of factors that create some communities’ mistrust of the police will help make it easier for law enforcement officers to protect people across New Jersey.”
Both bills were advanced on Thursday by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, of which Mainor is chair.