BEYOND BERGEN: Claiming that “oversight of police is limited,” a former Bergen County undersheriff is co-sponsoring a bill in Trenton that would require two independent investigators whenever a law enforcement officer in New Jersey is involved in a fatality on the job.
“It’s important to recognize that the police provide our communities with an incredibly valuable service,” said Deputy House Speaker Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) of Englewood, a primary sponsor of the measure ( above, left ). “However, it’s equally important to realize that oversight is a critical component of any government agency, and that oversight of police is limited.”
Co-sponsoring the bill with him is Deputy Majority Leader Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon), a municipal prosecutor in Lawrence Township ( above, right ).
“By introducing critical oversight and accountability to the Internal Affairs investigation process, which has historically been closed from the public eye, this legislation would give our police officers additional credibility by affirming their actions, while simultaneously building public confidence about law enforcement in general,” Gusciora said.
A-3756, modeled after a Wisconsin law adopted earlier this year, would address those situations “in which the use of deadly force by law enforcement is excessive, unnecessary, or inappropriate.”
“There are certainly instances when police are more than justified in using their weapons. As a prosecutor, I understand as well as anyone the dangers our officers face on daily basis, and I’m not asking them to risk their lives more than they already are” Gusciora said. “However, there are cases when deadly force is, given the circumstances, patently unjustifiable.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that this process would be mutually beneficial,” Gusciora added. “Both the public and the police would, as a result of these investigations, have conclusive proof that law enforcement acted appropriately.
“Similarly, in those infrequent instances where an officer is found to have acted inappropriately, both the police and the public have the benefit of having a bad actor removed, which only serves to enhance public trust and police credibility.”
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