This week NJ Advance Media released The Force Report, allegedly a 16-month investigation of disparities in how police use force. Just as the State, advocacy groups, and other media outlets are analyzing this data, so is the New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police. This investigation encompasses years 2012 through 2016. We must keep in mind that body cams came into effect mid-2015 which means that the number of incidents should have decreased since 2015.
On behalf of the NJFOP’s 14,000 members, President Robert W. Fox challenges both the accuracy of the data and context of how this information has been presented. Our men and women in blue are charged with protecting the citizens of this State and maintaining law order. Use of justifiable force is a normal and necessary part of good policing. According to this report, of every 1,000 police-involved incident, only 30.5 incidents have reported use of force. That actually breaks down to force being used in approximately 3% of all incidents involving the police.
Fox maintains, “Even with the 3% number of force, the report doesn’t differentiate whether this force is justifiable or not.” Fox goes on to say that our organization does not condone force that is not justified. However, just as we are responsible for protecting the public, NJ Advance Media is also accountable to publishing accurate data on critical issues such as this.
NJ Advance Media even admits that “high number of usage of force does not indicate wrong doing.” We appreciate their noting that some force is necessary to protect the public and encourage them to examine issues like this without publishing click-baiting articles which are designed to increase their readership.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has announced that he plans to develop reforms based upon this report. NJFOP welcomes a true report on force and offers to participate in this process so that the issue is examined in a context that concludes in an accurate report. As use of force is evaluated, it should not be overlooked that through departmental internal affairs, police do police themselves on use of force and other issues. Also, when the use of force is questioned, these issues are adjudicated on the local level.
Further, as reforms are developed on use of force, a closer look must be given at the number of police officers who are assaulted during arrests of suspects and in instances of unprovoked situations.
Finally, it would be interesting to see what impact the use of body cams and citizens’ recording video on private devices have had on the use of force. We would venture to say that the 2016-2018 data will not mirror what has been documented in the NJ Advance Media’s report.