Roll call training features local cops, describes best internal affairs practices

NEWARK – Three years after identifying a statewide crisis in New Jersey police departments’ internal affairs practices, the ACLU-NJ has released a roll call training video that explains best practices and guidelines for officers who receive internal affairs complaints. The video, which exclusively features New Jersey law enforcement professionals, is based on the state Attorney General’s statewide guidelines on internal affairs and provides a much-needed tool for training officers.

This training video is for law enforcement, coming from law enforcement,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “In 2009, an ACLU-NJ report showed that 80 percent of local police departments provided inaccurate information about how to file an internal affairs complaint. Officers hadn’t received sufficient training, and we’re trying to help bridge that gap. The first interaction a citizen has when inquiring about filing a complaint against a police officer can set the tone for the entire investigation, and it has sometimes deterred citizens from filing complaints.”

The five-minute long video is intended for officers to view at roll call and to reach all levels of personnel. With the exception of officers working directly in internal affairs, most officers receive minimal training on how to handle internal affairs complaints. The training features four leaders of New Jersey law enforcement, who discuss the importance of internal affairs and the proper handling of incoming complaints:

  • Chief James Abbott, West Orange Police Department
  • Director Samuel DeMaio, Newark Police Department
  • Chief Bryan Gurney, Ramsey Police Department, and President of the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association
  • Captain Quovella Spruill, Essex County Prosecutor’s Office

The ACLU-NJ has provided the film at no cost to the New Jersey State Chiefs of Police Association, as well as to the New Jersey County Prosecutors Association, with the request that it be shown to all personnel. Essex County has decided to use the film at county-wide trainings of law enforcement officials.

“The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office actively participated in the making of this video because we want to ensure that all county law enforcement personnel have the information they need to correctly handle any complaints of police misconduct.” said Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray. “Ultimately, our job is to bring justice to victims. To do that, we need the community to trust us. Any interactions that undermine community trust hurts our ability to serve and protect the public and misrepresents the majority of officers who do their jobs in an honest and honorable way. We believe this video highlights best internal affairs practices.’’

The video offers a refresher on the various ways citizens can file a complaint against an officer: in person, by telephone, anonymously, through email, by third party, and with any necessary assistance with language or disabilities. It also discusses who can make a complaint, including juveniles without their parents and immigrants (regardless of their documentation or status). It also covers the benefits of a robust internal affairs unit not only to citizens, but to law enforcement personnel.

“We have to be able to police ourselves, because we don’t want anyone tarnishing our badge,” said Ramsey Police Chief Bryan Gurney, explaining why internal affairs operations are so crucial to effective policing. “The days of just being able to sweep things under the rug are way over.”

On March 16, 2012, the ACLU-NJ previewed the film for an audience of approximately 75 officers who were members of the New Jersey Internal Affairs Association. It was well-received and resulted in requests to show it in individual departments.

This new video is one of several ACLU-NJ initiatives that promote better internal affairs practices. After the ACLU-NJ’s 2009 survey, the ACLU-NJ promoted the use of a resource for police departments to use as phone-side “cheat sheets” that detail the requirements for all personnel if a citizen wishes to report a complaint against an officer (created by Chief R. Brett Matheis of the Clinton Police Department). In 2010, the ACLU-NJ requested an Office of Attorney General review of internal affairs policies, statistics-keeping and oversight. That review resulted in a number of improvements to the statewide policy and requirements for greater oversight.

“If internal affairs does a poor job of taking complaints from citizens, it has an adverse effect on the entire department,” said Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio during an interview featured in the video. “The department is here to serve the community, and the community has to have a trust in the agency.”

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