Four of Jersey City’s nine lawmakers have endorsed state legislation calling for the creation of civilian complaint review boards statewide.
The bill, A-1515, sponsored by Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31st District), of Jersey City, would grant such board subpoena power and the ability to play a role in the investigation of complaints.
McKnight’s bill seeks to overturn an August 2020 state Supreme Court decision involving Newark and the city’s police union, upholding the right of municipalities to form civilian review boards but denying such boards the right to subpoena witnesses or to participate in investigations being conducted by the police department’s Internal Affairs unit.
“In addition to make it easier for New Jerseyans to file complaints,” McKnight said, “these boards would increase both transparency and accountability between law enforcement officers and members of their communities. They would also give the community a voice in the police disciplinary process and help to instill residents’ confidence in the men and women sworn to protect them.”
City Council president Joyce Watterman, together with Councilmembers James Solomon (Ward E), Denise Ridley (Ward A) and Frank Gilmore (Ward F), announced their support of the bill in a press release issued Tuesday.
The council is due to vote on the measure Thursday night and comes on the heels of the Sunday, August 27 fatal shooting by police of Andrew Washington, 52, at his Randolph Avenue residence, while family members say he was experiencing a mental health issue. Police said they found a knife near his body.
In the press release, Solomon said: “The tragic death of Andrew Washington has made it clearer than ever before that we need a strong Civilian Complaint Review Board. Members of our community should provide strong, independent oversight to ensure the police are working to rebuild trust within the community and the city.”
Watterman said a CCRB “has the potential” to reassure the community that “government is accountable and that their concerns are being heard.”
Ridley added that city residents have repeatedly called for the creation of a CCRB. This review agency, Ridley said, can “assist with restoring trust between residents and local police departments in a time when the lack of trust has caused damage on both ends.”
And Gilmore said “the implementation of a strong CCRB is essential” to “build stronger police-community relations.”
Many city residents have criticized the council for failing to following through on a pledge to set up a mechanism for a civilian mental health crisis unit to respond to emergencies of that kind as a strategy to cut down the violent confrontations of residents and police.
In April 2022 the city took bids for a contracted service but didn’t follow through until community protests in the wake of Washington’s death stirred the council to prod city managers to revisit the plans.
At Tuesday’s council caucus, city Health Officer Paul Bellan-Boyer reported that the city had reissued the bid proposal and gotten three responses of which the one submitted by the Jersey City Medical Center was “ranked first,” largely because of its “34 years of crisis response experience” and because “it is best positioned” to field and respond to two calls simultaneously.
In contrast to the city’s existing mobile crisis unit, which Bellan-Boyer said operates under “state charter” – mandating responses to situations involving a “threat to the safety of others” – the proposed new response unit to be dispatched by the hospital’s behavioral clinic “would be viewed as an addendum to the existing service” and would answer calls involving victims in need of a psychiatrist or potential suicides.
Bellan-Boyer said the proposed new unit would operate Monday through Friday, from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., the time period when, according to an analysis of emergency calls, the public demand for this type of service is highest.
“It is designed as a civilian response,” Bellan-Boyer said, by a paramedic and EMT, although there are circumstances envisioned, he added, where “the city could choose for an officer to respond.” He didn’t elaborate on that point.
Watterman and Councilmember-at-large Daniel Rivera asked that JCMC representatives appear before the council to elaborate.
JCMC is offering to provide the new service at a cost of about $1.2 million annually under a proposed 3-year contract totaling between $4.2 million and $4.3 million, plus a “one-time startup cost” of $345,000, “principally for the tools to do the work,” Bellan-Boyer said.
JCMC anticipates launching the new service within 45 days after the council awards the contract.