Bill to reevaluate Rutgers police internal investigations, procedures
Police officers brought up on charges should receive a fair hearing and if found guilty, should be punished appropriately, said New Jersey State Assemblyman Gordon Johnson.
A new bill requiring the Rutgers University Police Department to conduct its internal investigations and procedures in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the state Attorney General was approved by the New Jersey State Assembly on March 31, and is now waiting to be signed into law.
Johnson sponsored the bill, and said it was necessary because police offers felt they were not treated equitably.
“The genesis of this bill (is that) officers thought they were not being treated fairly,” he said. “When you have a system in place that tells (those) who are prosecuting ... and those who are defending that this is a process, you will get a fair hearing.”
Punishments should also be appropriate to the alleged crimes, Johnson said.
State regulation of the RUPD would be fair, said Alexander Law, a Community Service Officer and School of Arts and Sciences senior. Given that the University is a public, state institution, having oversight could not hurt.
This does not necessarily mean the system under the bill would be better than the current system, he said.
Bill A-3493 only affects the RUPD because the University as an institution existed before the Civil Service Commission did, Johnson said.
Most other state college police forces came into effect after civil service was institutionalized, he said. The state Attorney General’s office later wrote guidelines that these forces are required to follow.
In turn, other state colleges fall in line with town police forces and sheriffs’ departments, Johnson said.
“This law puts (the RUPD) in that same pool so they follow the procedures when it comes to discipline or hearings for officers accused of wrongdoing,” he said.
At the moment, the University uses its own rules to hold hearings and discipline officers accused of breaching conduct or if a complaint is filed, Johnson said.
These rules sometimes deviated from the norm, he said. Some of these officers approached Johnson and other assemblymen because they felt they were not receiving fair treatment in disciplinary issues.
Time was one important aspect to these hearings, Johnson said.
“(Officers) would have X number of days to get to a hearing, and this was not being done,” he said. “They could wait six or seven months for a hearing, and it’s not fair for an officer to wait that long to exonerate himself.”
According to the “Internal Affairs Policy and Procedures” document written by the Attorney General, an officer accused of misconduct has 45 days, or about one and a half months, to be investigated and charged. If more than 45 days are required, the investigator must explain when sufficient evidence can be found.
Another rule to be standardized involves suspending officers, Johnson said. Under the guidelines, a suspension must follow a proper hearing, which may not happen at present.
Part of the reason hearings and punishments could vary within the RUPD is because of how they are currently run, he said. University administrators or the police chief can determine punishments for officers on their own.
Helping officers is important, Johnson said.
“I think when you’re in law enforcement and you’re out there protecting the lives of others, sometimes there may be allegations made against you as a police officer that causes an internal investigation, whether from within or a complaint made externally,” he said.
Helping hold the RUPD accountable for their actions might be beneficial for the Rutgers community, said Sagar Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.
“I think this new bill is a great way to establish a well-trusted standard for our protectors on campus,” he said.
This bill, which has been approved by both the New Jersey Senate and State Assembly, would ensure fairness through the state’s oversight, he said.
Being tried quickly would help all officers, and being punished appropriately would make their jobs easier, Johnson said.
Officers found guilty of misconduct or a crime should face the same consequences any other officer in the state would face under similar circumstances, he said.
“This brings a feeling of fairness to the process when it comes to disciplinary actions,” Johnson said. “If you are found (guilty), or partially what you did was wrong, the punishment should be within the guidelines set forth.”