TRENTON, N.J. — Citing George Floyd’s death, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Tuesday the state will update its guidelines governing the use of force by police for the first time in two decades and will move to require a statewide licensing program for all officers.
“To the thousands of New Jerseyans that assembled peacefully this week let me be clear: we hear you, we see you, we respect you, we share your anger and we share your commitment to change,” Grewal said during a news conference alongside Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.
At least 43 other states require some licensing requirement for officers, Grewal said, adding he wants to bring law enforcement inline with other professions that require licensing, like doctors and lawyers.
The announcements also include a pilot program in a handful of cities across the state to conduct training programs aimed at promoting safe interactions between police and communities, Grewal said, and the implementation of a statewide database to document when police use force.
New Jersey, like many other states, has seen dozens of protests stemming from Floyd's death in Minneapolis. Floyd, who was black, died after a white officer was recorded pressing with his knee on Floyd's neck for several minutes, even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. The officer face a third-degree murder charge now in Minnesota.
Protests in Trenton and Atlantic City were the only two in New Jersey over the weekend to end in violence and vandalism that has broken out across the country, Murphy said, while an event in Asbury Park on Monday left a police officer injured and a journalist under arrest. The charges were later dismissed.
The changes Grewal announced won't require the Legislature to act and instead will happen through regulations and directives through the attorney general's office, Grewal said, though he stressed that there would be stakeholder input particularly on the new use-of-force guidelines.
The current guidelines date to 2000 and set out to supplement “the letter of the law” with clear guidance to prepare officers to react “appropriately” in situations where force is required.
Grewal said his office has been weighing changes since he took office in 2018. Tuesday’s announcements stemmed from December 2019 transparency measures that Grewal put forward. They included making surveillance video from crimes involving police available to the public more quickly than under the previous policy.
The issues have been building for a while and the timing was clearly “ripe,” he said.
Monday's protest in Asbury Park was peaceful, and many police officers knelt in solidarity with demonstrators who denounced police brutality. However, tensions flared around 9:30 p.m. as police moved to clear the streets of about 200 people who remained after the main protest had ended. The city had imposed an 8 p.m. curfew.
A city police officer was injured after demonstrators hurled rocks at officers, police said. State Police Superintendent Col. Pat Callahan said there were a dozen arrests and that one officer had a fracture in his skull as a result of the rock trowing. Another was bitten in the leg, and a third needed stitches on his chin.
Asbury Park Press reporter Gustavo Martinez Contreras was streaming the protest live on Twitter when he was arrested and issued a ticket for failing to obey an order to disperse. He was released from police custody on Tuesday.
The charge against the reporter will be dismissed, Grewal said in a tweet earlier on Tuesday.
“I know that officers face enormous challenges while maintaining order during a chaotic situation. But I’ve discussed this matter with local authorities and they will be dismissing the charge today,” he said. “We will also figure out why this happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Because in America, we don’t lock up reporters for doing their job.”
Credentialed members of the media were exempt from the curfew.
There were 21 protests scheduled statewide on Tuesday, Callahan said.
On Tuesday morning, Toms River police walked at the head of a protest march in their Jersey Shore town. As three police cars slowly led the way from a shopping center to the Ocean County Courthouse, Chief Mitch Little and other officers walked behind a banner that read: “We Are With You.”
Several hundred people chanted “I can’t breathe!,” a saying that was among the last words of Floyd and Eric Garner, also a black man, who died years ago after he was placed in a chokehold by police.
A few hours later, protesters streamed across a nearly 3-mile causeway into the seaside resort of Ocean City in southern New Jersey. Marching to police headquarters a few blocks from the boardwalk, they lie face down in the street as police looked on.