- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 30, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New state guidelines on investigating excessive force complaints against police officers should improve accountability and transparency but aren’t necessarily intended to raise the percentage of cases that result in indictments, New Jersey’s attorney general said Tuesday at a conference on improving relations between police and residents.

Of 50 cases that were presented to grand juries in the last 10 years, two led to indictments, Division of Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig said in response to a question during a panel discussion at the community policing forum “Building Trust: Strategies to Strengthen Police/Community Relationships.”

That number wasn’t troubling to Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman, who said afterward that while the new guidelines implemented this summer could produce more indictments, that wasn’t the aim.

“I am not going to go into this with a predetermined notion that we need to meet some kind of quota of excessive force cases,” he said. “I do feel it will lead to a more just result all the way around. It is possible that the number may increase slightly or decrease slightly, but I don’t find that number troubling. What it means to me is that appropriate force was used.”

Among the guidelines are that cases involving local police officers are handled by the county prosecutor’s office without involvement from the local police, except in rare cases; any conflicts of interest must be disclosed immediately, and all cases must be presented to a grand jury unless there is “indisputable” evidence against doing so, and even in those cases the attorney general’s office has the final say.

Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray told the gathering that the guidelines have been “tremendously helpful.”

Others feel more action is needed. Udi Ofer, head of the American Civil Liberties Union New Jersey, said he supports the creation of a special prosecutor to investigate police-involved shootings as well as a requirement that cases be moved out of the county they occurred in. Both proposals are contained in bills currently in the New Jersey Legislature.

“Then there would be as much independence as possible, rather than a county prosecutor who deals with the local law enforcement agency almost on a daily basis.”

During his opening remarks, Hoffman touted a coordinated law enforcement effort in Trenton that was put into effect with significant community involvement that has drastically reduced murders and gun violence over the last two years.


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