During the afternoon of Thursday, March 1, 2018, Morris County Prosecutor Fredric Knapp and Deputy Chief of Investigations Stephen Wilson attended an important program hosted by Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri. This program focused on the statewide procedures and practices for investigating and reviewing police use-of-force incidents. The program was given at The College of New jersey and was attended by approximately one hundred county stakeholders, law enforcement, and clergy.
Attorney General Grewal has made it a priority to implement his “21-County Community Policing Project”, in which each county prosecutor will organize public meetings once a quarter to discuss specific issues with community leaders. Through this project, Advisory Groups will be created throughout the counties of New Jersey. These groups are to be comprised of law enforcement and community stakeholders, and will study this process, as well as make recommendations on how to improve it.
The first quarter program under the “21-County Community Policing Project” focuses on police use-of-force incidents, specifically to improve the relationships between the police and the communities that they serve. That was the topic of yesterday’s program.
Newly issued AG Directive 2018-1, which requires presumptive public release of body-cam and dash-cam videos of police lethal force events upon substantial completion of the initial investigation, aims to protect the public, as well as maintain a fair and balanced investigation of police use-of-force incidents. Under this new Directive, law enforcement has to balance the public’s interest in transparency with the interest of the government’s duty in conducting a criminal investigation, with the ultimate goal of fostering a fair criminal investigatory and judicial process.
Pursuant to this directive, although the community has the right to see certain law enforcement videos captured on body worn cameras or dashboard cameras, there are specific privacy concerns that must be noted. For example, the identities of victims, or the inside of a private residence will be redacted from the footage that can be released to the public. This is both to ensure the privacy of the person captured on the camera, as well as to allow witnesses of a crime the peace of mind in cooperating with an ongoing investigation.
AG Directive 2018-1 stems from a 2015 Independent Prosecutor Directive which was drafted to ensure that police use-of-force incidents would be thoroughly reviewed by multiple layers of neutral prosecutors. This ensures that law enforcement agencies maintain a sense of transparency while use-of-force incidents are investigated.
This 2015 Directive, along with Attorney General Directive 2006-5, focus on the following seven core principles:
- Comprehensive, rigorous, impartial investigation;
- Maintenance and protection of integrity of ongoing investigations and rights of the accused;
- Mandatory review of all actual and potential conflicts of interest;
- Multi-tiered layers of independent prosecutorial review;
- Uniformity in statewide investigative and legal practice, including grand jury practice;
- Transparency of process and factual findings at appropriate junctures;
- Ongoing outreach and study.
AG Directive 2018-1, the 2015 Independent Prosecutor Directive, and AG Directive 2006-5, aim to foster a better relationship between law enforcement and the public. It is the goal that police use-of-force incidents will no longer be a hot bed for disagreements between law enforcement and the community, but will rather be able to be viewed through an unbiased lens, with both sides having the ability to view footage from the incidents.
Morris County Prosecutor Knapp stated, “The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office began community outreach programs of this nature in 2015. We have had a series of programs since then and expect to have our first of 2018 in mid-April. We are in the process of scheduling at this time”.
Inquiries concerning this press release should be directed to Public Information Officer Peter DiGennaro at [email protected] or 973-829-8159.