Monthly Archives: August 2021

Another Agency Far Less Transparent After AG Directive 2020-5

As we recently blogged here and here, there are serious concerns about the recent major discipline disclosures that police departments made pursuant to Attorney General Law Enforcement Directive 2020-5. Here is yet another problematic example:

The Star Ledger published an editorial this week panning the disclosures as “not the kind of transparency that was promised when the database was conceived, in the aftermath of the George Floyd tragedy and the universal demand for more police accountability.”

The first problematic example the newspaper gave was Guttenberg Police Department’s disclosure that an officer was “currently still suspended with pay.” That’s it. No other details about the officer’s conduct, despite the requirement that agencies provide a “brief summary of [each officer’s] transgressions.”

Thankfully, unlike most other agencies in the state, all of police departments in Hudson County complied with the old version of the AG’s internal affairs policy which required them to publish the major discipline report without names. Thus, we are able to view Guttenberg’s anonymous version of its major discipline report, which Hudson County View first published here.  (See page 8).

Guttenberg’s initial report (without names) said:

Please be advised that one (1) member of this agency had faced major disciplinary action during 2020. This officer (Sergeant) was suspended without pay since February for violations of this department’s rules and regulations. The officer failed to properly supervise and report an arrest and use of force incident.

Now the disclosure merely tells us the officer is “currently still suspended with pay.” Unless someone knew about the prior report, they would have no idea what this officer actually did and why he was being disciplined.

The failure to supervise and report an arrest and the use of force is a very serious offense. And, the officer has been suspended (with pay) for at least 494 days per the AG’s Major Discipline Database (see p. 38). But, the public was not told about this officer’s conduct and would have no way of knowing what the officer did based on the database. In order to determine whether there is appropriate accountability (i.e. whether the sanction was appropriate), the public needs to know about the officer’s actual transgression.

When Attorney General Grewal issued Directive 2020-5, he promised the public much greater transparency and that it would lead to better accountability. But, as the New Jersey Monitor recently wrote, the Directive turned out to be “a dud.” Many police departments are now far less transparent than they were before the Directive and there seems to be no oversight by the Attorney General’s Office.

For information about this blog or OPRA, please contact CJ Griffin at 201-488-8200 or cgriffin@pashmanstein.com.

Police Department Falsely States Officer Was “Terminated” In Major Discipline Report

The New Jersey Attorney General has published a database of all of the major discipline reports that police departments have released this week in response to Law Enforcement Directive 2020-5. Although the AG is heralding the disclosures as “an important and necessary step to build greater public trust,” we are already identifying discrepancies. Here is another troublesome one from Lower Alloways Creek Police Department, in Salem County.

According to Lower Alloways Creek Police Department’s 2020 Annual Major Discipline Report, officer Jared Adkins “was terminated for incidents of Insubordination and Neglect of Duty.” Because that disclosure does not tell us what the officer actually did, we Googled his name to see if any news stories might reveal the details of the misconduct.

What we found instead are the meeting minutes of the Township Council’s November 16, 2020 public meeting. Those minutes state that, “The motion to accept the resignation of Officer Jared Adkins was passed by a vote of the Township Committee[.]” The Township Clerk subsequently confirmed in response to an OPRA request that Adkins “submitted a letter of resignation effective 11/30/2020, accepted at a meeting held 11/16/2020.”

Telling the public that an officer was “terminated” makes it sound like definitive action was taken against the officer to hold him accountable for misconduct. In reality, this officer was permitted to resign (possibly “in good standing”). Last year, the Appellate Division criticized an agency that told an OPRA requestor that a corrections officer was “charged with a disciplinary infraction and was terminated” when in reality he was permitted to retire in good standing, despite the fact that he admitted to “engaging in sex with two inmates and bringing them contraband, including bras, underwear, cigarettes and a cellphone.” The court called it “inaccurate spin.”

Lower Alloways Creek Police Department’s major discipline report shows that other agencies are similarly involved in such “inaccurate spin” when making their major discipline disclosures. Unfortunately, internal affairs records are shrouded in complete secrecy in New Jersey, so the public has no ability to review the actual internal affairs files to see whether agencies are telling the truth in these disclosure reports.

Still, community members and journalists should review these annual discipline reports carefully, along with news articles, meeting minutes, and other publicly available documents to try to fact-check the disclosures.  Please let us know if you find discrepancies or need assistance filing an OPRA request.

Major Discipline Disclosures Reveal Serious Flaws in AG Directive

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Law Enforcement Directive 2020-5, the Attorney General set a deadline of August 9, 2021 for agencies to make major discipline disclosures by posting on their websites “the identity of each officer subject to final discipline, a brief summary of their transgressions, and a statement of the sanction imposed” for all major discipline imposed after 6/15/2020. These disclosures are exposing how police departments will easily evade the very little transparency that AG Directive 2020-5 provides to the public.

As NJ Advance Media writes, “The details provided about each incident vary widely, with some departments offering only a single sentence to describe the misconduct.”  The New Jersey Monitor adds, “the disclosures contain scant details. And some stragglers haven’t yet gotten their reports online.”  Indeed, many agency reports do not tell the public what the officers actually did, instead simply describing the misconduct as an “off-duty incident”, “prohibited activity on duty”, or “failure to conduct one’s self to a high ethical standard on and/or off duty.”

We find Jersey City Police Department’s major discipline report to be very troubling and indicative of what is almost certainly a larger problem: police departments being purposely vague and misleading in their disclosures now that they have to include officer names.

For background, prior to AG Directive 2020-5, agencies had to disclosure major discipline, but they did so without revealing the name of the officer. The reason JCPD’s new report is alarming is because we have a copy of its old report (p.3), without the names, that we can compare to its new report with the names. The differences in the details provided to the public is startling. AG Directive 2020-5 was supposed to provide more transparency, not less.

Below are some examples:

Example 1:

Old Anonymous Report:

JCPD disclosed that, “A member of this agency while off duty retrieved a firearm after consuming 6-8 beers. He negligently discharged a round from the firearm during a dispute. The New Jersey State Police responded and their investigation resulted in his arrest and subsequent placement in Pre-Trial Intervention.” This resulted in a suspension of 19 days and 71 lost days.

New Report With Name:

JCPD describes the misconduct with much less detail, saying that the officer “lost a total of 90 days for violating JCPD Rules and Regulations for:  Conduct, Mishandling of a Firearm, Intoxicants Off Duty” and that he “negligently discharged a firearm while off duty on his personal property.” There is no mention of the number of beers the officer consumed, the fact that he fired his weapon during a dispute with someone else, or that he was arrested by the State Police. These are important facts about this officer’s volatility.

Example 2:

Old Anonymous Report:

JCPD disclosed that, “A member of this agency purposefully and intentionally failed to report and make proper notifications to dispatch and supervisory personnel following an on-duty officer involved in a motor vehicle accident.” This resulted in a loss of 25 days.

New Report With Name:

JCPD describes the misconduct as, a loss of “25 days accrued time for violating JCPD Rules and Regulations for: Failure to Perform Duties and Conduct after failing to submit an MVA report as required.” There is no mention of the fact that the officer “purposefully and intentionally” failed to file the report and that the accident involved another on-duty officer. The new report makes it seem as if the officer was careless, not that he intentionally was covering up another officer’s accident.

Example 3:

Old Anonymous Report:

JCPD disclosed that, “A member of this agency presented a false, fraudulent and altered doctors’ note to the Police medical Unit.” The report says the officer was “terminated.”

New Report With Name:

The new report does not list any corresponding officer as having been “terminated” for presenting a fraudulent doctor’s note, but this entry seems to match with the old entry: the officer “lost a total of 122 days for violating JCPD Rules and Regulations for: Conduct, Neglect of Duty, and Truthfulness. FNDA issue date 9/16/2020. Resignation effective 9/17/2020.”   Assuming these entries are in fact the same, this entry does not tell the public what the officer actually did (forged doctor’s notes) and it falsely states that he was “terminated,” when he really resigned.

These are just some of the flaws in JCPD’s new report, but it is evidence of a larger problem that advocates predicted: agencies will be less than forthcoming in the disclosures they make pursuant to AG Directive 2020-5. Because the public does not have access to the actual internal affairs files, there is no way to fact-check these disclosures.

Moreover, AG Directive 2020-5 only requires disclosure of names for major discipline imposed after 6/15/2020, and JCPD’s old report reveals some egregious misconduct occurring before that date, such as an officer using a “derogatory term” and attempting to remove the body cam footage; an officer engaging in a “physical altercation with a juvenile that escalated” into the officer inadvertently firing his weapon; and an officer entering a public restroom and making an “inappropriate and unwelcome advance toward a female JCPD Officer.” We will likely never know the names of these officers and they are still on the police force.

We will blog again soon because there are more problematic disclosures that we want to share. In the interim, if you find anything suspicious in your police department’s major discipline report, please send it our way!

For more information about this post or about OPRA, contact CJ Griffin at 201-488-8200 or cgriffin@pashmanstein.com.