Have You Reviewed Your IA Policies? Now is the Time.
July 3, 2020
Client Alert: Have You Reviewed Your IA Policies? Now is the Time.
AG Now Requires Public Disclosure of Officers Who Receive Major Discipline
Trimboli & Prusinowski, LLC, June 19, 2020
Not in a generation has the call for police reform been expressed with such intensity.
The call shifted overnight from a quiet drumbeat to an overwhelming roar the moment the public saw video footage of the indefensible killing of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis. The incident sparked nationwide protests voicing anger about police brutality, particularly towards people of color. The protests, in turn, resulted in headlines with more disturbing images of violent interactions between police and peaceful protesters.
Now, more than ever, it is time to demonstrate that your law enforcement agency has integrity, has the public’s trust, and has respect for the community it serves. That effort begins with ensuring that you have the proper internal affairs (IA) policies in place to effectively investigate and resolve complaints of police misconduct.
Accordingly, we are reaching out to you to discuss the importance of reviewing and updating your IA policies at this critical time. Also, we are reaching out because your agency needs to be aware of the most recent Attorney General directives focused on bringing more accountability to law enforcement agencies throughout the State, ensuring that misconduct of the few does not lead to the detriment of the many.
You likely will need some assistance to make sure that your IA policies and procedures conform to the new AG requirements. We invite you to give us a call. For decades, we at Trimboli & Prusinowski, LLC, have advised our public sector clients on their IA policies, have kept our clients up to date on the latest changes coming from Trenton, and have trained IA officers in conducting investigations. Call us today at 973-660-1095, or get in touch using our online contact form.
Let us help you make sure that your IA policies both meet the Attorney General’s revised guidelines and, more importantly, assure your community that complaints of police misconduct are properly addressed.
When Was the Last Time You Reviewed and Updated Your IA Policies?
Unfortunately, IA policies and procedures are not static. Federal and State case law generally requires that law enforcement agencies do three primary things in connection with their IA function:
- Implement an internal affairs policy that provides for a meaningful and objective investigation of complaints and other evidence of police misconduct.
- Monitor the behavior of police officers for incidents of misconduct.
- Correct the behavior of officers who are found to have engaged in misconduct.
In guiding law enforcement agencies throughout the State, Attorneys General periodically update the State’s Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures guidelines to incorporate the emerging best practices in the State’s IA system. In addition, judges, with increasing frequency, are handing down decisions that define the minimum standards of performance for IA departments.
All of that is to say that “set it and forget it” will not work when it comes to your agency’s own IA policies. Your IA department needs to evolve along with the developing mandates the come from AG directives, the Legislature, and court decisions.
In sum, part of any agency’s IA responsibility is to regularly review IA procedures, compare them against the latest statewide policy changes, and determine what IA refinements are needed. An experienced public sector employment attorney can help.
The Biggest Change in IA Policy in a Generation – The Requirement of Disclosing the Identity of Disciplined Officers.
Of the many changes in IA policy recently announced by the Attorney General, the most significant by far is the Attorney General’s swift response to the recent protests. Specifically, the public disclosure of the identities of officers who commit serious disciplinary violations is now mandatory. That requirement takes effect on August 31, 2020 and must be implemented by law enforcement agencies no later than December 31, 2020.
In announcing this massive change, the AG acknowledged that it has been long-standing IA policy up to this point not to disclose the identity of disciplined police officers. The AG noted the many reasons for that previous policy, including that disclosure could discourage witnesses of misconduct from coming forward and would be unfair to officers who were subjected to unfounded allegations.
However, the AG came to the conclusion that, on balance, it is in the public interest to have public disclosure of the names of officers when they receive major discipline for misconduct.
Accordingly, all law enforcement agencies must publish on their public websites, on a yearly basis, a report summarizing the complaints received, and the disposition of those complaints. In addition, at least once a year (it could be more frequently) agencies must publish online and submit to the County Prosecutor:
- A synopsis of all complaints that resulted in major discipline, with
- The identity of each officer who received major discipline,
- A summary of their transgressions, and
- A statement of the sanction imposed.
Notably, the names of those who complained of misconduct must still remain confidential. All agencies must begin the publication of such public reports by December 31, 2020. If you need assistance in getting the procedures in place to ensure compliance with the AG’s directive, call us at Trimboli & Prusinowski.
Other Significant IA Policy Changes
In addition to the new public reporting requirements, the AG recently made other sweeping changes to statewide IA policies.
- Requiring disclosure of a candidate’s prior IA file. All background investigations of someone seeking a law enforcement position must include a review of the candidate’s prior IA file. Given that officers with a disciplinary history have, at times, moved to other agencies without the history being disclosed, this provision expressly disallows the practice.
- Incorporating the AG’s Officer Resiliency Directive. Working in law enforcement is a stressful occupation that takes a toll, mentally and emotionally, on officers. The new IA guidelines make clear that a law enforcement officer will not face discrimination or adverse IA consequences solely because he or she sought medical or psychological treatment.
- Emphasizing “early warning systems” to prevent misconduct. All law enforcement agencies are responsible for establishing and maintaining and “early warning system” that is designed to identify officers whose conduct is, or may become, problematic. This guideline requires that IA departments coordinate with the “early warning system” to prevent minor misconduct from increasing into more serious disciplinary problems.
- Clarifying selection standards for IA staff. The AG’s guidelines seek to ensure that IA personnel have the necessary experience to handle sensitive investigations. Thus, the guidelines encourage a tour of service in IA before officers are given leadership roles in the IA department, and require recusal in situations where there is a conflict of interest.
- Facilitating the public’s ability to report alleged misconduct. The AG guidelines (i) standardize the civilian complaint form, which must be available in multiple languages; (ii) allow the form to be available via email as well as by phone; and (iii) emphasize that officers are prohibited from warning complainants that there are consequences for filing a false report.
Those are just a few of the long list of revisions in the AG’s December 2019 Internal Affairs Policy & Procedure document. And this all has come about at a time in which the AG has placed renewed emphasis on Brady/Giglio issues involving police officer dishonesty.
We would be happy to give you more information on the IA requirements under the new guidelines.
The importance of regaining public confidence in law enforcement cannot be overstated. The consequence of not doing so could mean an end to the type of law enforcement institutions we have today in New Jersey and throughout the country.
One of the best ways to restore public trust is by demonstrating that officers are held accountable when they engage in misconduct. The process starts with an IA function that follows AG guidelines and is proven effective.
Trimboli & Prusinowski, LLC, is here to help. We can review your IA procedures to ensure that they comply with the latest AG guidelines. Further, given our decades of experience with IA matters, our attorneys are available to train IA officers in conducting investigations and in preparing cases for disciplinary hearings. Call us today at 973-660-1095, or get in touch using our online contact form. We are committed to helping you build and maintain public trust in your agency.