Social Justice and Police Reform

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

What We've Done

As the most diverse city in America, Jersey City’s public servants hold a special responsibility to build an inclusive, equitable city. Each day, I am proud to partner with advocates and activists to take another step toward that reality. In the last four years, we’ve:


What We're Going to Do

A Plan for Social Justice and Police Reform


In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Jersey City residents led some of the largest demonstrations in our city’s history, demanding major reforms to the JCPD and greater investments in social justice programs to make Jersey City a safe and just city.


To accomplish that goal, Jersey City must invest in a well funded police department while also addressing the root causes of violence. It must ensure there is accountability for misconduct in our police force. It’s time for Jersey to adopt a more holistic approach to policing. It is time to address inequities directly by investing in key social services proven to reduce violence and time to implement accountability measures that the community can trust in to hold our police officers accountable.


Jersey City residents deserve a government that keeps them safe and also addresses the root causes of violence. I have a plan to achieve both.


1) Community Policing:

A community policing strategy puts an emphasis on officers proactively building relationships with the communities they serve. It’s a hyper-local approach that gets cops out of cars, into their local neighborhoods and encourages them to better understand the communities they serve.

2) Independent Oversight of Misconduct:

It is critical that we create an independent, community-lead system of oversight for our police department to ensure there is accountability for misconduct. This means putting pressure on Trenton to pass Assemblywoman Angela McKnight’s legislation to create a Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) and passing legislation here in Jersey City.


3) Investment in Social Services to Reduce Violence:

We need to fund the communities directly impacted by gun violence through investments in social services, such as teen mentoring, youth jobs, community led anti-violence initiatives.

 

Community Policing


Community or Neighborhood Policing is an approach to policing that’s designed to improve communication and collaboration between community residents and police officers. Under this strategy, officers work in the same neighborhoods during the same shifts, increasing their familiarity with the local community and local issues. Community policing puts an emphasis on steady geographic assignments, time away from dispatched calls, and encourages officers to build relationships and foster community engagement.


Community policing can encompass a variety of approaches and tactics, with cities like New York and New Orleans pioneering some of the most effective best practices. Common approaches include:


  • Encouraging the community to help prevent crime by building trust, visibility and communication on a regular basis.

  • Increased use of foot or bicycle patrols, and reduced time spent in police cruisers.

  • Increased officer accountability to the specific communities they serve.

  • Clear communication between the police and the communities about their objectives and strategies, and working cooperatively with the community on those strategies.

  • Empowering local officers to have more discretion in decision making, pursuing arrests and initiating investigations.


While a more community based approach to policing is an important first step, it critically needs to be paired with accountability for misconduct if we are going to ensure there is trust between communities and the police that serve them.

 

Independent Oversight of Misconduct


During a backyard barbeque in August of 2019, an off-duty (and intoxicated) Jersey City Police Lieutenant discharged a shotgun and threatened several of his guests. New Jersey State Police intervened, and soon after charged this JCPD officer with making “terroristic threats” and “possession of weapons for unlawful purposes”, both of which are typically felony offenses. This officer would later go on to be largely shielded from justice or accountability. Instead of standing trial for these offences, this officer was placed in a pretrial intervention which is a diversionary program for first-time offenders that results in no conviction or criminal record.


Even more troubling, is the fact that these events were kept from the public thanks to strict laws that protect the secrecy of police discipline records. Tragically, this is just one prominent example of a longer term systemic problem, that police officers are largely shielded from accountability, and in many cases, feel free to act as if they are above the law. After years of stalled public-record requests, millions of dollars in police misconduct settlement payouts, and broken faith in the department’s commitment to protect every resident equally, it’s clear, Jersey City needs to make a change. What we need is an empowered, independent Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB).


For a CCRB to build trust between the community and the police it must have strong investigatory power such as the ability to issue subpoenas and compel action from the police department it oversees. Jersey City can establish the structure of a strong CCRB now, to be implemented the moment the state authorizes the legislation. We can do that through a legislative mechanism called a trigger function. By doing this Jersey City would send Trenton a clear message: We need true accountability in our police department.

In conjunction with local efforts, Jersey City’s leaders should continue to apply pressure on Trenton lawmakers to make CCRBs and independent oversight of police a reality. That is why I have supported and will continue to support State Assemblywoman Angela McKnight’s efforts to create a CCRB.

 

Investment in Social Services


If we are going to holistically address the root causes of violence, then we need to start investing in community driven solutions. One such community-led, anti-violence solution is the concept of “violence interruption.”


Community-driven groups like Cure Violence and Advance Peace have pioneered the use of “violence interrupters” who are recruited from within a local community and are tasked with mediating conflicts before they escalate. There’s a growing body of evidence that finds that non-police mediation can be successful when done right. This type of community-driven reimaging of how public safety can work at a local level is exactly the type of program in which our city should invest.

Funding community-driven anti-violence initiatives must be paired with long-term investments in communities experiencing the greatest violence.

For example, two programs operating in Chicago, the Becoming a Man project and Choose to Change, rely on a combination of mentoring and cognitive behavioral therapy and have reduced participants’ involvement in violence by about 50%. Similar programs, like those that provide at risk youth with Summer jobs have been shown to lower rates of violence by as much as 40%. Providing better economic opportunities in particular needs to be the backbone of a holistic solution to persistent inequality and violence. Another great model with proven results is the READI program. This program, pioneered by the Chicago Crime Lab, connects individuals most at risk of gun violence involvement with employment in paid transitional jobs, counseling, and supportive services to help them gain skills and create a path to a better future. By addressing some of the root causes of violence, and funding the communities most affected by violence directly, will we achieve a more safe and equitable Jersey City.