Formal complaints against New Jersey State Police troopers exceeded 1,000 for the first time this year. The trend continues a climb that began when racial profiling reforms forced the agency to revamp its internal affairs process in the late 1990s, reports the Newark Star-Ledger. Officials and other experts say the numbers are a good sign, showing that the State Police are more welcoming of complaints and more responsive. A large case backlog has been eliminated. “We’ve gotten more efficient,” said Capt. Gordon Coleman, who heads internal affairs investigations. “We’ve really stepped up our efforts.”
Critics say the new system has encouraged a flood of unwarranted complaints. Others say probes are influenced by politics, or are skewed against citizens and low-rank troopers. Attorney William Buckman who has filed lawsuits against the police, cites examples of “investigations that are shallow, that appear to be devised essentially to find no cause, particularly if a complaint is filed by a lay person or filed against a superior by someone of lower rank.”
As of Dec. 13, the State Police Office of Professional Standards had received 1,019 complaints lodged by citizens and fellow troopers this year, more than double the 401 in 1998. A quarter of the misconduct complaints investigated so far were substantiated, and most resulted in written reprimands. At least 26 troopers were suspended, including some found guilty of harassing rookie colleagues.
After the racial profiling issue surfaced, the State Police assigned dozens of investigators temporarily to the Office of Professional Standards. The Legislature required all internal affairs investigations be completed within 45 days. The professional standards office cut the number of misconduct cases it investigated by creating a category for minor infractions that could be handled by a trooper’s supervisor. The result was dramatic: The State Police went into 2002 with 707 pending misconduct cases; It has cleared 1,408, eliminating the backlog.