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Dec 23

State AG Announces Sweeping Overhaul of Police Use of Force Policy

Posted on December 23, 2020 at 1:55 PM by Legislative Staff

This week, Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal issued two new Law Enforcement Directives –  Directive No. 2020-13 announcing a new, statewide Use of Force Policy applicable to all state, county and local law enforcement officers in New Jersey; and Directive No. 2020-14, establishing countywide working groups to address mental health and special needs populations and creating a framework for coordination with state partners. 

The new Use of Force Policy (Policy) is built around seven core principles, and is designed to “prevent excessive force, eliminate disparities in the use of force, and save lives.”   These principles include:

  1. The sanctity of human life and serving the community.
  2. Force as a last resort and duty to de-escalate.
  3. Duty to use only objectively reasonable, necessary, and proportional force.
  4. Duty to use deadly force only as a last resort and duty to avoid actions which create a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.
  5. Duty to intervene and report.
  6. Duty to render medical assistance.
  7. Duty to report and review uses of force.

The Policy also includes an addendum on the use of conducted energy devices (Tasers) and other less-lethal devices and ammunition, and another addendum covering vehicular pursuits.

The Policy also outlines additional reporting requirements whenever physical force is used. This includes the creation of a “Use of Force Portal” and the requirement that all instances of physical force against a civilian be reported within 24 hours, with a detailed description of the incident.  In addition, supervisory officers are now required to review all used 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.  Lastly, every law enforcement agency must conduct an annual analysis of use-of-force incidents to identify trends, including racial disparities, and submit the analysis to the County Prosecutor for review.

As noted in Directive 2020-13 many law enforcement agencies have their own use of force policies which they may continue to follow, so long as they remain compliant with the new Policy.  Nothing, in the Policy prevents an individual agency from being more restrictive, but they cannot permit the use of force where the Policy prohibits it.

Directive 2020-13 and the new Policy supersedes all prior versions of the Use of Force Policy and other relevant policies and directives.  Implementation of the new Policy becomes effective December 31, 2021, to provide all state, county, and local law enforcement agencies with enough time to ensure all sworn personnel complete the newly mandated two-day training program on de-escalation and other tactics for limiting the use of force.

The second Directive issued by the Attorney General this week, Directive 2020-14, aims to help improve law enforcement interactions with special needs populations and those living with mental or behavioral health issues.  Directive 2020-14 takes effect March 31, 2021. 

Directive 2020-14 calls for each County Prosecutor to convene a County Working Group, comprised of law enforcement, mental health, behavioral health, substance abuse, and special needs professionals, and tasks the Group with creating a “Mental Health Toolbox.”

The “Mental Health Toolbox” is meant to include a list of state and countywide mental health recourses available to assist law enforcement when they encounter individuals in a mental health crisis.  Examples include the programs for mental health or social workers to respond to calls for service instead of law enforcement or along with law enforcement; diversionary programs in the criminal justice system; access to mental health and drug treatment screening and treatment options; county crisis screening services which include mobile outreach and accessibility; and links to follow-up resources for the issues that are identified through the screening.

The County Working Groups are to report quarterly updates to the Statewide Steering Committee, which Directive 2020-14 also creates. 

The Steering Committee is comprised of the following representatives and agencies:

  • Office of Public Integrity and Accountability;
  • the Division of Criminal Justice;
  • the New Jersey State Police;
  • the County Prosecutor’s Association of New Jersey;
  • the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police;
  • the Sheriff’s Association of New Jersey;
  • the County Jail Wardens Association;
  • the Department of Human Services;
  • the New Jersey Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families;
  • a designated County Mental Health Administrator;
  • mental health advocates to be designated by the Attorney General; and
  • any other organizations as determined by the Attorney General.

The Steering Committee is to meet on a quarterly basis to review progress of the County Working Groups, exchange ideas and provide feedback on best practices, emerging trends and latest guidance, identify opportunities for multi-county coordination of programs, and provide information about opportunities and grants and coordinate grant submissions. 

You should review both of these directives with your Chief of Police and/or Public Safety Director, and municipal attorney for more information and to ensure compliance with any new requirements.

Contact: Frank Marshall, Esq., Associate General Counsel, or 609-695-3481 x 137.