TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal Monday, Dec. 21 announced a comprehensive package of policies designed to limit the use of force by New Jersey’s 38,000 state, county, and local law enforcement officers. The sweeping changes include the first revision to the Attorney General’s “Use of Force Policy” in two decades and reaffirm New Jersey’s status as a national leader in progressive policing reform.
“We are committed to making New Jersey a national leader in policing reform, and today’s actions deliver on that promise,” Grewal said. “We are building on the important work already underway in the state’s best police departments and establishing a new standard of excellence across the Garden State. But today’s changes are about more than just reducing unnecessary use of force by law enforcement. We are also restoring the public’s trust in the work we do—which, in the long run, makes law enforcement more effective and everyone safer.”
Today’s policies, issued pursuant to the Attorney General’s statutory authority as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, reflect a new statewide framework for police interactions with civilians— the first of its kind in the United States and one which calls upon law enforcement to protect the life, liberty and dignity of residents in every interaction. At the heart of the new framework is the revised Use of Force Policy, which among other things:
- Prohibits all forms of physical force against a civilian, except as a last resort and only after the officer attempts to de-escalate the situation and provides the civilian with an opportunity to comply with the officer’s instructions;
- Prohibits all forms of deadly force against a civilian – including chokeholds and strikes to the head or neck – except as an absolute last resort when the officer reasonably believes that such action is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury;
- Prohibits officers from firing weapons at a moving vehicle or engaging in a high-speed car chase, except under narrowly limited circumstances;
- Provides new guidance on the use of less-lethal force as an alternative to deadly force and as a tool for de-escalation;
- Establishes an affirmative “duty to intervene” that requires all officers – regardless of rank, title, or seniority – to intercede if they observe another officer engage in illegal or excessive force against a civilian; and
- Establishes an affirmative “duty to provide medical assistance” that requires officers to request – and, where appropriate, personally provide – medical assistance after any use of force against a civilian.
In addition, today’s announcement includes several significant policies designed to ensure compliance with the revised Use of Force Policy and help New Jersey’s law enforcement officers incorporate its principles into their daily work. These policies issued today by Attorney General Grewal provide that:
- All 38,000 state, county, and local law enforcement officers in New Jersey must complete an immersive, two-day training program on de-escalation and other tactics for limiting the use of force. This unique training program will incorporate two proven and respected training programs: ICAT—Integrated Communication and Tactics training developed by the Police Executive Research Forum, and ABLE—Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement developed by Georgetown University and others. All officers must complete the training no later than December 31, 2021;
- Within 24 hours of using any physical force against a civilian, the law enforcement officer must report detailed information about the incident to the statewide Use of Force Portal, a new electronic reporting system implemented with Benchmark Analytics, part of the University of Chicago’s Center for Data Science and Public Policy. A version of the portal will be accessible for public review in the first quarter of 2021;
- Supervisory officers, including police chiefs, are now required to review all uses of force by their subordinate officers, both to determine whether a particular use of force was proper and to identify systemic issues that may require retraining or other remedial measures; and
- Every New Jersey law enforcement agency – including the New Jersey State Police, the 21 County Sheriff’s Offices, and more than 500 local police departments – must conduct an annual analysis of use-of-force incidents to identify trends, including any racial disparities, and submit the analysis to the County Prosecutor for review.
The revised Use of Force Policy marks the culmination of a project that Grewal announced in June 2020. Its development included dozens of community listening sessions across the state, including at least one in each county, and a review of over a thousand public comments. The Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity & Accountability oversaw the drafting process, in close consultation with law enforcement leaders, civil rights and religious organizations, and community stakeholders, many of whom provided statements of support for the final policy documents.
“Today is another major step toward addressing the gap in trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve — drawing on the best practices of police departments across the nation and the urgent priorities of reform advocates to implement a uniform use of force policy for every officer in New Jersey,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “I commend Attorney General Grewal for his leadership during this transformational moment by delivering this first of its kind policy to ensure law enforcement is held to the highest professional standards, particularly for Black and Brown communities who have suffered far too many incidents of improper and excessive force. Through this comprehensive policy, we are again putting New Jersey at the forefront of the national movement for justice.”