Senate Law and Public Safety Committee Advances Police Reform Legislation

Governor Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy attend the 20th Annual Diocesan of Paterson blue mass honoring law enforcement on Tuesday, May 7, 2019. Edwin J. Torres/Governor’s Office.

Trenton – Yesterday the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee advanced four police reform bills that would assist officers responding to mental health emergencies, provide critical information for first responders aiding individuals with special needs, fund a program to encourage more minority law enforcement applicants and require cultural diversity and implicit bias training for all officers.

The first bill, S-722, sponsored by Senator Richard Codey and Senator Troy Singleton, would establish a three-year Crisis Response Support Pilot Program that would provide ongoing services and support to certain individuals who are the subject of a request for emergency services.

“Collaboration between police officers and mental health professionals is mutually beneficial for everyone involved – law enforcement, communities and residents alike,” said Senator Singleton (D-Burlington). “By establishing this pilot program, it is our hope that there will be fewer instances of unnecessary force when residents are suffering from a mental health crisis.”

Under the bill, the Attorney General would select two municipalities in each of the northern, central, and southern regions of the State for participation in the pilot program. The chief administrative officer or governing body of a pilot municipality would be required to appoint a crisis response coordinator who is responsible to provide ongoing support and services to individuals in crisis and suicidal or suffering from a mental health condition or substance use disorder.

The second bill, S-769, sponsored by Senator Nellie Pou and Senator Linda Greenstein, would require the Office of Emergency Telecommunications Services within the Office of Information Technology to establish a central registry of residents with special needs who require additional assistance provided to them during an emergency.

“Oftentimes, individuals with special needs require specialized care and treatment in emergency situations so that they and the individuals treating them can remain safe at all times,” said Senator Pou (D-Passaic/Bergen). “Through establishing this registry, our state’s first responders will be better equipped to handle these situations, ensuring that individuals with special needs are not only safe but comfortable while receiving treatment.”

Under the bill, residents would be able to voluntarily register individuals with special needs with the Office of Emergency Telecommunications Services and provide the registrant’s address, telephone number, and particular condition or assistance needs. Every police department, fire department and emergency services organization in the state would be provided with a list of residents in their jurisdiction who are registered with having special needs.

“Crises involving special needs individuals are difficult to plan and be ready for,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This registry would be an essential asset to make these difficult situations a little easier, as emergency responders will be aware of the best practices to help these individuals prior to delivering them assistance.”

The third bill, S-818, sponsored by Senator Singleton, would appropriate $1.25 million to the Department of Law and Public Safety to fund a new program called the Minorities in Police (MIP) grant program. The purpose of the MIP grant program would be to recruit qualified minority law enforcement candidates into New Jersey law enforcement training academies.

“New Jersey boasts an extremely diverse population and our law enforcement officers should reflect this,” said Senator Singleton (D-Burlington). “Police officers perform a vital role in society and it is critical that our police departments reflect the communities they serve. One way we can do this is through the Minorities in Police grant program, which will seek to recruit qualified, minority law enforcement candidates into our police academies.”

The fourth bill, S-2072, sponsored by Senator Shirley Turner, would require the Police Training Commission in the Division of Criminal Justice in the Department of Law and Public Safety to include cultural diversity and implicit bias training in the basic training courses for police officers.

“Implicit bias training is becoming more prevalent among a wide range of professions in response to concerns about racial and ethnicity-based discrimination,” said Senator Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Providing this training to all aspiring law enforcement officers will help sensitize, prevent, and dispel stereotypical beliefs and help them to overcome biased behavior. We want to ensure that new officers have the skills needed to respond to the diversity of individuals they will encounter in the communities they serve and protect.”

Current law requires the Department of Law and Public Safety to develop or identify a uniform cultural diversity training course that includes instruction promoting positive interaction with all members residing in the community, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. The training course is available to every State, county, municipal and campus police department for in-service training of its officers. This bill would require this cultural diversity training to be administered to police officers during their mandated basic training.

The bills were all released from committee by a vote of 5-0.