The New Jersey Senate approved a bill Thursday that would stop county prosecutors from investigating deaths at the hands of police and require the state Attorney General's Office to do so instead.
The bill's intention, supporters say, is to prevent conflicts of interest between prosecutors and police agencies, whose members sometimes work together and know each other.
"Any investigation of police-involved fatalities should be fair, it should be thorough, and it should result in justice being served," Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), one of the bill's sponsors, said in a statement Thursday. He called trust between the criminal justice system and the public critical.
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which stood alongside Sweeney in July when the bill was proposed, lauded the Senate's 23-10 vote.
"We give police officers extraordinary power, including the power to take a life," said Dianna Houenou, the state ACLU's policy counsel. "The public deserves to hold law enforcement accountable when officers abuse those powers wrongfully."
The legislation must go through the Assembly next.
When it was proposed, Sweeney cited the case of Jerame Reid, 36, who was fatally shot by Bridgeton Police Officer Braheme Days in Cumberland County in December 2014.
Days had been a basketball coach for the son of Jennifer Webb-McRae, the county prosecutor. She recused herself and had a deputy handle the inquiry, which cleared Days.
Sweeney said there was a lack of trust in the outcome because of the perceived conflict of interest.
His bill also requires that the findings of a killing by police be presented to a grand jury outside the county where the death happened.
"We have an obligation to take action in a real and meaningful way," Sen. Ronald Rice (D., Essex), another of the bill's sponsors, said in a statement Thursday. "Ensuring that any fatal shootings that involve local law enforcement are immediately transferred out of the local jurisdiction is vitally important."