New Jersey, Connecticut Weigh Reforms on Police Accountability, Use of Force

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Photo by Michael Grimes via Flickr.

The New Jersey State Assembly will meet Thursday to vote on over 100 bills, many of which take a look at complex issues surrounding race, mental health and sentencing disparities in the criminal justice system, as well as police excessive use of force, North reported. 

No state has taken this big of a leap into police reform since the May murder of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police officers, North Jersey said.  

“This is the time to get these done,” said Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, who leads the Legislature’s Black Caucus.

“While I am happy these bills are moving forward in the Legislature, much more needs to be done.” 

One of the reform bills slated for the Senate, S2635, would effectively criminalize making 911 calls as a form of intimidation or harassment based on discriminatory factors, much like what occurred in the high-profile case in Central Park, when a white woman walking her dog called police on a Black birdwatcher. 

Another bill being heard by the Assembly today, A4373, would allow courts to consider age as a mitigating factor — meaning a reason to lessen a sentence — for defendants younger than 26 years old, if passed. 

The Assembly will also hear a bill to eliminate mandatory minimum prison sentences for nonviolent or drug-related crimes. 

Moreover, bill A1076  says the New Jersey Attorney General would “collect and analyze specific prosecutorial and criminal justice data, including race, ethnicity, gender and age, and publish annual reports.” 

A1076 is already passed, and waiting for Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature.

“These are our first steps toward building trust and collaboration between police and communities of color in our state,” Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex and chair of the Senate’s Law and Public Safety Committee said earlier this week. 

“This package of bills zeros in on a multitude of topics that will undoubtedly better equip our law enforcement officers to serve all of our citizens effectively and equitably.” 

With a majority of America’s state legislatures not in session to introduce or pass reform bills, all eyes have been on the few states that have opened sessions to take up these matters — like New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Iowa, Colorado, and Minnesota, Statista reports.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, who called his state’s new “sweeping” legislation a “good bill,” also says he may sign the massive police accountability law on Thursday, News 12 CT detailed. 

Once this bill is signed by Lamont, there are some immediate changes, while others won’t happen until 2021 and beyond. 

However, the changes that will happen right away include that it’ll be easier to strip an officer of their badge for excessive force or racial profiling, towns can create “Civilian Review Boards” with subpoena power, and the State Department of Criminal Justice can create a new independent Inspector General position to exclusively prosecute excessive force flames, News 12 CT outlined.  

Other future changes include mandatory behavioral health assessments for police and a ban on chokeholds, with a reduction in “Qualified Immunity” all by July of next year. 

Bills passed in both New York and Iowa address banning chokeholds and changing the procedures around oversight for officer misconduct. However, these laws don’t go as far as Colorado’s passed bill that effectively ends Qualified Immunity, Sciatica reports.  

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has spearheaded the change in our nation with his July signing of police reform laws that now ban chokeholds and mandates training while imposing a duty on officers to report and intervene when their colleagues use excessive force, The Crime Report recently detailed. 

Minnesota’s Republican-controlled Senate had said they didn’t plan to go as far with reform measures as their Democratic counterparts in the House, but nonetheless, bills were passed. 

According to The Marshall Project and data obtained through a database compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi are all in session — but they have not introduced any police reform bills, Statista reports.

12 other states have introduced bills or amended existing legislation. 

This summary was prepared by TCR staffer Andrea Cipriano.

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