December 11, 2023
NEWARK – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today commended the Community Development and Affairs Committee for releasing A1515, a bill to grant select municipalities the opportunity to create Civilian Review Boards (CRBs) with investigatory powers through a pilot program in the four cities of Newark, Jersey City, Paterson and Trenton.
“For more than 50 years going back to the Newark Rebellion, New Jersey residents have been advocating for strong Civilian Review Boards to build a system of community accountability into policing,” said Yannick Wood, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “The continuation of police violence against Black people in the state, including as recently as the killings of Najee Seabrooks in Paterson and Andrew Washington in Jersey City, makes it starkly evident that we still need CRBs today. The legislation passed today in committee is a heartening and important first step.”
CRBs, led by members of the community and not within the internal chain of police command, will allow for more independent investigations not encumbered by pressure from police leadership. They are professionalized, with members who will have necessary training. And, importantly, granting CRBs subpoena power and the ability to conduct investigations concurrently with Internal Affairs increases the chances that law enforcement witnesses provide accurate testimony.
At today’s hearing, witness after witness testified to the need for CRBs, including people who have lost loved ones to police violence.
“Passing CRB legislation in New Jersey is a long time coming, and today’s vote begins the process,” added Wood. “As a former prosecutor, I know the value of CRBs and have seen them work in New York. We now look forward to working with the Senate bill sponsorship to strengthen the bill and move it forward through the legislative process and onto the Governor for signature.”
The Institute urges the legislature, as the bill moves forward, to pass amendments including ones to i) protect powers that municipalities already have to establish or maintain CRBs; ii) ensure that at the conclusion of the pilot program, the investigatory powers of the pilot program will be expanded to any CRB across the state; ii) guarantee that pilot municipalities that already have CRBs can participate without having to pass new ordinances; iv) provide for county level CRBs; v) add that a CRB can run concurrently with an Internal Affairs investigation without a waiting period; and vi) provide an appropriation for CRB training.