Across New Jersey last year, hundreds of police officers were found guilty of misconduct and faced punishment ranging from suspension to firing to criminal charges.
Camden County Officer Andrew Smith was caught sleeping on the job and suspended for 10 days. A lieutenant in the Camden County Sheriff’s Office drew a 12-day suspension after getting caught attending a party while out on sick time. And former Trenton Police Detective William Sanchez-Monllor lost his job after he was convicted of sexually assaulting two underage girls.
Those incidents and scores of others were made public in a report released this week by the state Attorney General’s Office, a disclosure more than a year in the making. Compiled and issued at the direction of former Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, the 86-page document provides information about any law enforcement officer who was terminated, demoted, or suspended for more than five days between June and December 2020.
In a statement, acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck called the report “an important and necessary step to build greater public trust” in law enforcement.
“We are releasing this information not to shame or embarrass individual officers, but to provide the same type of transparency and accountability in policing that New Jersey mandates in other essential professions,” Bruck said.
The report has been heralded as a victory for police transparency, a landmark accounting of how officers are punished. It comes at a time when trust in law enforcement has ebbed nationwide after incidents such as the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
But the police unions who fought against the report’s release say it proves that misconduct among officers is not as severe or widespread as the attorney general seemed to indicate in calling for disclosure. And some good-governance advocates said the report does not go far enough and called for more details on the incidents cited.
The president of the New Jersey State Policeman’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Colligan, said the report gives the same weight to all incidents requiring discipline. In some departments, officers with otherwise perfect records will show up on the list as being disciplined for minor offenses, including being late for a shift or getting into an on-duty car crash, alongside their colleagues who were fired for more serious offenses.
“I won’t say some of the stuff isn’t significant, but these officers took deals during arbitration, similar to a plea bargain, not knowing their names were going to be in the paper,” Colligan said. “The state continues to change the rules mid-game.”
Colligan’s union joined three other major labor unions last summer in challenging Grewal’s decision to compile the disciplinary data. In an open letter, Colligan said the release of such data would “smear officers unfairly who have not violated the public trust.”
Negotiations between the top prosecutor and the unions soured, and the unions filed a lawsuit that went all the way to the state Supreme Court. The justices ultimately ruled in Grewal’s favor, and the data were gathered from departments across the state.
“Our position then was, even as we went to the Supreme Court, if they violated the public trust, go ahead and release it,” Colligan said. “If you violated someone’s civil rights, or assaulted a person that wasn’t in the commission of an arrest, that’s basically a criminal act in the course of your employment.
“Chances are, an officer like that would be terminated, and we wouldn’t take issue with that.”
More than 400 departments surveyed did not have any officers face significant discipline last year. In South Jersey, those included departments both large — Atlantic City, Cherry Hill, Deptford — and small, such as Collingswood, Gloucester City, and Elk Township.
At the Shore, police departments in Cape May, North Wildwood, and Ventnor recorded no discipline.
Other departments didn’t have such sterling records.
A Wildwood officer was suspended for 25 days for causing a traffic collision with “extensive damage to vehicles.” West Deptford Police Officer Anthony Boatright was fired after a 129-day suspension for improper use of police records and computer systems. West Deptford Police Chief John Chambers referred all questions about that incident to the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office, which did not return a request for comment.
The report included a number of larger agencies, including county corrections departments and the state police. In Camden County, corrections officers were suspended for reasons ranging from failing to supervise their subordinates to violating COVID-19 protocols.
Of the 16 state troopers disciplined in 2020, six were cited for off-duty incidents, including domestic-violence arguments and drunk driving. Others faced discipline for falsifying their time cards or failing to report their colleagues’ violations of department policy.
One trooper, Edmund Masiejczyk, was fired for drinking on duty. Another, Bartlomiej Koziel, lost his job after being charged with endangering the welfare of a child, terroristic threats, aggravated assault, and related offenses. The full details of the incident are not included in the report.
And therein, some advocates say, lies a flaw in the new reporting system.
Woodbury-based civil rights attorney Stanley King, who has made a career out of representing families of people killed or injured during encounters with law enforcement, said the report isn’t complete without details of each incident.
“What the public wants to know is who’s doing what,” King said. “And at the end of the day, it’s nice to know who’s disciplined for various conduct, but this does not tell us what type of allegations or infractions officers are not being disciplined for.”
King applauded the Attorney General’s Office for releasing the information, calling it an important first step in shedding light on disciplinary actions taken by police departments. But he said he is more concerned with serious breaches in conduct that don’t result in discipline, because they never get reported to superiors, or because they are declared justified by internal investigations.
“We don’t feel any more safe because you disciplined an officer for abusing overtime or for getting a ticket,” King said. “We want to know what’s happening on the street, and how he’s protecting the community he took an oath for.”
Bruck, the attorney general, called the report a first step.
“The vast majority of New Jersey’s law enforcement officers serve the public with honor and integrity, doing the right thing day-in and day-out for the communities they serve, so I take no joy in putting this information out,” he said. “But we are doing this because it is an important and necessary step to build greater public trust while promoting professionalism in law enforcement.”