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Police union grudgingly endorses use-of-force reform | Editorial

Better late than never. Watch video

The worst stereotype of police unions is that they defend incompetent cops at all costs, hunkering down to oppose public transparency at every juncture; responding with overly belligerent statements when what's called for is nuance and a dose of healthy self-examination.
 
Good cops deserve better. So we're pleased to welcome Patrick Colligan, head of the State Policemen's Benevolent Association, to the policing data reform effort. Better late than never.  
 
After acerbically dismissing an exhaustive and disturbing report on police use of force compiled by NJ Advance Media for The Star-Ledger and NJ.com as "clickbait entertainment," Colligan now pledges to help collect this data in the future.

N.J. rocked by release of police force records, spurring town meetings, calls for action and promises of reform
 
He just signed on to a statement with Gov. Phil Murphy's Attorney General and other police unions, saying they'll be "working together to design a new system for obtaining use-of-force data in New Jersey." Great.
 
But let's be clear: This is exactly what "The Force Report" did. Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal agreed that reporters shouldn't have had to pay more than $30,000 and file hundreds of public records requests to compile it.
 
As part of their 16 months of legwork, they requested an interview with the PBA. Colligan didn't respond, just like he refused to discuss this with us on Monday.
 
Yet hours after the report came out, he assailed it as "a clickable database for watercooler banter today, nothing more." Really?
 
New Jersey's top cop, Grewal, begged to differ, praising it as "nothing short of incredible." "They've analyzed it to see if there are patterns of behavior that should cause concern or raise red flags," he said. "That's something that we should be doing."
 
Policing data experts heartily agreed. While most cops rarely used force, many departments had troubling outliers, the report found. Multiple officers charged with brutality and other misconduct would have been flagged early, had our state used a better system.
 
This report states outright: Policing is a risky profession and use of force is not misconduct. It's just an early warning. The calculation that, on average, more than three cops a day are getting injured on the job also cries out for a closer look.
 
Colligan argued this database should have included additional reports and witness statements, to indicate whether each use of force was justified. But by law, police departments can withhold these documents from the public, which they frequently do.
 
Colligan knows this, because it's police unions like his that have opposed the public release of such records. Yet now, he complains that more documents aren't included here: "True journalists at least attempt to tell an entire story," he wrote.
 
This is why reporters fought the PBA in court. As its state head, Colligan hasn't exactly been on the front lines, pushing for more disclosure.
 
NJ Advance Media also hired a statistician who has studied use of force extensively, John Lamberth, to review its team's work. His primary criticism was that the database was too deferential to police. If five officers used force on one person, for example, it was counted as a single incident for that department's rate of force, even though it could be argued that there were five uses of force.
 
Colligan maintained to the Asbury Park Press last year that bad apple cops "will either be weeded out by their peers, or their actions will weed themselves out." But obviously, that's not happening.
 
Among the officers who would have been flagged early, had the state been keeping track: Sterling Wheaten, one of the five Atlantic City cops involved in mauling a drunk man who yelled at them.
 
After Wheaten sicc'ed his snarling police dog on the guy, leaving him with 200 stitches, taxpayers settled the case for a staggering $3 million. Did we really want to let this cop's actions "weed themselves out?"
 
We need to do better, Detective Colligan.

The Force Report is a continuing investigation of police use of force in New Jersey. Read more from the series or search your local police department and officers in the full the database.

Read more from The Force Report:

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N.J. police-involved shooting bill will aid public trust | Editorial

Put probes of police-involved fatalities into the arms-length hands of the state attorney general's office.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has a keen sense of what can increase trust between law enforcement and the community at large. He often makes policy decisions with the expectation that they will boost cooperation, so that it will be easier to find serious lawbreakers and bring them to justice.

In one instance, though, Grewal's judgment seems flawed. It's his opposition to legislation that would require the AG's office, rather than county prosecutors, to lead investigations into police-custody deaths involving municipal officers. 

In an unusual move, Grewal testified Monday against the pending bill, now that it's poised for full legislative approval. The attorney general told the Assembly Appropriations Committee that the legislation would "undermine public trust in law enforcement and will replace a system that already does everything that the sponsors seek to accomplish and more."

Where is Grewal is coming from? This legislation (A3115) has been hanging around since 2016, when Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, introduced a prior version in response to concerns about the results -- often long-delayed results -- of county-prosecutor led probes into several deaths in South Jersey at the hands of local police officers.

To restate our reasons for supporting the legislation, they include long silences by prosecutors before these cases are updated, the suspicion that county prosecutors are too "buddy buddy" with municipal cops they must work closely with every day, and that prosecutors can manipulate grand juries against indicting officers. 

So-called "community activists" have ginned up suspicion over county-prosecutor- led investigations into some police-custody killings, but these loudmouths usually fan neighborhood distrust that is smoldering anyway. What's wrong with adding another layer of scrutiny? These cases are still rare enough -- fortunately -- that it shouldn't put a strain on the AG 's office to take the lead. There were 13 police-involved fatal shootings statewide in 2017, barely one a month. An AG-level probe is small price to pay to defend that important element of public safety protection that allows police officers to use deadly force legally in situations when others may not do so.

Grewal, in his testimony Monday, spoke of "unintended consequences" should the current bill become law. He's concerned that the language could prevent local or county investigators from going to the scene of these police-involved incidents, thus delaying the probe and the ability to uncover critical evidence. It's Grewal's job to adopt policy that prevents misinterpretations of the law. If the AG thinks the bill's language makes that impossible, he can suggest specific amendments to clarify the intent. 

Grewal's policy revisions earlier in the year to make the current county-run probes more transparent, including requirements to release most relevant body-cam/dash-cam video in a timely manner, should not go unnoticed. Against a background of wider statewide questions over use of force by local police, however, the policy changes don't go far enough.

Having the AG's office take over these police-involved fatality cases is the right course. It was good to see the Assembly Appropriations Committee release the bill, 7-4, on Monday, despite Grewal's objections. Two local members of the panel, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, and Assemblywoman Gabriella Mosquera, D-Camden, properly voted to send the bill on to the full Assembly. The state Senate approved it way back in March. 

It's time. Even if Gov. Phil Murphy sees fit to conditionally veto the bill in line with Grewal's concerns, the Legislature should put it on his desk. He should sign it, once any minor bumps over its language are resolved.

Send a letter to the editor of South Jersey Times at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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Trump is hiring. Apply now! | Sheneman cartoon

Not just lawyers.

There's an exciting opportunity I'd like to make you aware of. Do you have the burning desire to hasten the end of the republic? Would you like to be a footnote in a chapter about the zombie apocalypse?

Do you have the patience to wrangle a despotic diaper baby while he yells at the television? Would you like to be exposed to legal jeopardy as part of a conspiracy to defraud the citizens of the United States? Well, you may be a good candidate for chief of staff of the Trump administration!

Your responsibilities will include:

  • DVR-ing hours of Fox and Friends
  • Filling the daily intelligence briefings with bright, colorful pictures
  • Subverting democracy
  • Scapegoating immigrants
  • Scrubbing spray tan out of the upholstery 
  • Serving as a punching bag for an elderly man completely ignorant of the government and how it works
  • Hiding the launch codes
  • Establishing the oligarchy 
  • Light filing

This exciting opportunity as an employee of the federal government comes with generous benefits like health care -- which you will be expected to take away from everyone else -- and mental health coverage that you will absolutely need. Be the last person on your block to have a pension!

No experience necessary! Walk-ins welcome! Seriously, just stop by. 

Must be willing to relocate to Washington D.C. but you'll probably want to rent, not buy. Find a month-to-month lease, if you can

Applicants are urged to forward their resumes to the White House care of Jared and Ivanka or simply get a job at FoxNews and he'll hire you eventually. 

Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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West New York woman, identifying bomb suspects as her 'brothers,' can't understand what happened

West New York woman, identifying bomb suspects as her 'brothers,' can't understand what happened (via NJ.com)

By Dan Goldberg and Jason Grant/The Star-Ledger WEST NEW YORK — Her face was blocked by the slightly cracked open door to the apartment in West New York, but the anguish in her voice today was powerfully clear. "I’m hurt for everyone that’s been hurt" Alina Tsarnaev, the sister of Boston Marathon…

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Twitter account of Boston Marathon bombing terror suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev provides a look into his dark heart

Dzhokhar TsarnaevBoston Marathon bombing terrorist suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been posting messages on social media networks, including Twitter, in the time since the horrific event on Monday, April 15, 2013. His Twitter account is located at https://twitter.com/J_Tsar.

Going by the handle Jahar, some of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's tweets include:

"So then I says to him, I says, relax bro my beard is not loaded" (April 16, 12:22PM)

"and they what 'god hates dead people?' Or victims of tragedies? Lol those people are cooked" (April 15, 10:13PM)

"Ain't no love in the heart of the city, stay safe people" (April 15, 7:04PM)

The day after the attack, another Twitter user posted a familiar image from the bombing aftermath, allegedly involving a man who was going to propose to his girlfriend after the marathon. Tsarnaev impassively replied to the post by stating "fake story". (April 16, 4:09PM)

"If you have the knowledge and the inspiration all that's left is to take action" (April 7, 11:12PM)

"Never underestimate the rebel with a cause" (March 10, 10:57PM)

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Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev online presence

photo of Tamerlan TsarnaevBoston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev apparently had an Amazon.com Wish List that included books on how to create fake IDs. Following are some websites referencing or apparently used by Tamerlan Tsarnaev:

"Will Box for Passport" image gallery of Tamerlan Tsarnaev: http://johanneshirn.photoshelter.com/gallery/Will-Box-For-Passport/G0000VQW7v6xWA7o/

Tamerlan Tsarnaev's YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/muazseyfullah

Tamerlan Tsarnaev's Amazon Wish List: http://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/registry.html?ie=UTF8&type=wishlist&id=1PNVMAW2D4CT1

The captions under the photos in the "Will Box for Passport" gallery reveal some information about Tsarnaev:

Tamerlan, who studies at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston and wants to become an engineer, took the semester off from school to train for the competition.

Tamerlan fled Chechnya with his family because of the conflict in the early 90s, and lived for years in Kazakhstan before getting to the United States as a refugee.

Originally from Chechnya, but living in the United States since five years, Tamerlan says: "I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them."

If he wins enough fights... Tamerlan says he could be selected for the US Olympic team and be naturalized American. Unless his native Chechnya becomes independent, Tamerlan says he would rather compete for the United States than for Russia.

Tamerlan says he doesn't drink or smoke anymore: "God said no alcohol." A muslim, he says: "There are no values anymore," and worries that "people can't control themselves."

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Boston Marathon bombing suspects - FBI releases video & photos

The FBI has release video and photos of the two suspects sought in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing.

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Winning NJ Lottery numbers drawn


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Threats from Pyongyang stir mixed reactions from North Jersey's Korean community

Escalating threats by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, against South Korea and the United States in recent weeks have stirred mixed reactions among members of North Jersey's Korean community, much the same as they have in eastern Asia and Washington, D.C.

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Polish congregants in West Milford seek blessing of their Easter repast

Parishioners at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in West Milford gathered Saturday with baskets containing meats, cheeses, eggs, salt and chocolate for their holiday meals to be blessed, an Easter tradition from their homeland of Poland.

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