Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin recently released information about police agencies’ Internal Affairs investigations online, in a searchable dashboard capable of filtering data by law enforcement agency, the types of allegations involved, and what, if any, disciplinary action was taken.
The Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity & Accountability (OPIA) issued the dashboard as a tool for both law enforcement and the public to show the prevalence of various accusations, where they are surfacing, and how they are being dealt with by the Internal Affairs review process.
The dashboard, available at njoag.gov/iapp, centralizes de-identified Internal Affairs information that had been scattered among hundreds of agencies — information that had not previously been collected in a uniform way, or shared with the public in a standardized format.
“Fostering strong relationships between law enforcement and communities is essential to public safety. Transparency, fairness, and mutual respect are foundational to building that essential trust,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “Our state’s new dashboard testifies to the profound understanding of our law enforcement officers that such trust is forged by meaningful actions that reflect the crucial importance of this profession. Every effort to improve accountability among our esteemed law enforcement officers today will help better protect our community members tomorrow.”
How does West Milford stack up? First, let’s look at the state as a whole.
According to the dashboard, there were 12,662 Internal Affairs investigations launched in the state in 2021 that included 9,134 officers and 10,207 unique incidents. Of those, 7,156 were against white officers, 2,165 against Black officers, and 2,144 against Hispanic officers. The race of the complainants broke down as follows: 3,530 were white, 3,266 were Black, and 2,918 did not provide a race. A little more than half of the complaints came from civilians, and the vast majority (58.2%) of complaints were listed only as being a non-specified “rule violation.” The next most frequent complaint was for demeanor (15.9%), followed by the non-specified “other criminal violation” category, at 7.8%. About 6.7% of the complaints were for excessive force.
Regarding investigation outcomes, for 31.4% of the complaints from 2021 Internal Affairs found evidence that the officer did violate the law, rendering a “sustained” verdict. Of those, 20.7% resulted in an oral reprimand or warning as their disciplinary act, 20.3% received a written reprimand, 20.1% had to receive training or counseling, 15.7% (476) resulted in suspension without pay, and 4.5% (136) were discharged from employment. Roughly 66.7% of the criminal complaints against officers were dismissed by Internal Affairs. The average length of investigation by Internal Affairs was 56 days.
West Milford Police
In 2021, the West Milford Police Department, which serves the roughly 25,850 people who live within the borders of West Milford, had 19 complaints filed against 16 officers related to 18 unique incidents, according to Internal Affairs. The majority of those complaints were made by civilians. Of the 19 complaints, 10 were listed as rule violations, five were demeanor complaints, three related to differential treatment, and one was a claim of an improper arrest.
Internal Affairs noted that 18 of those complaints have been resolved; the average investigation length was 11 days. Of those 18 cleared cases, 11 were rendered a “sustained” verdict, meaning Internal Affairs found enough evidence to support the complaint against the officer. Four of the complaints were deemed unfounded. The remaining complaints were either closed, exonerated or ruled “not sustained,” meaning not enough evidence was presented to move forward.
Internal Affairs listed the disciplinary actions against the 11 officers: five were required to seek additional training or counseling, four received an oral reprimand, one resulted in a discharge from employment, and the other resulted in a monetary fine or loss of pay.
According to the town, the West Milford Police Department is made up of a chief of police, one captain, three lieutenants, six sergeants, four detectives, and 25 patrol officers.
Note that one year of data is not indicative of the average actions of the police department. The Internal Affairs data set is currently limited, so year-over-year comparisons could not be made. But we can say that 16 of the department’s 25 officers received complaints against them in a single year. While most of the “sustained” complaints resulted in more officer training, one required an officer to be let go from service.
As the Attorney General’s office explained, this dashboard and the continued collection of data will help identify any patterns and see whether policies or procedures need to be changed.
Tom Eicher, executive director of OPIA, said, “Not many agencies or states release this information. Bringing this data to light will enable the public to look with a broader lens to see if the internal affairs system is working the way it should be.”