MIDDLESEX COUNTY, NJ - In a live-streamed event, Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccione, the Middlesex County Association of Chiefs of Police and the NAACP discussed the state’s revised use of force policy for law enforcement. Officials summarized the new guidelines and explained how they impact policing and the broader community.
On the panel was Joe Walsh, an attorney with the Prosecutor’s office, South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka, and Sayreville Police Chief John Zebrowski. They discussed the state’s use of force policy; methods to de-escalate confrontations; strategies for dealing with those subjects struggling with mental illness; and public engagement in community policing.
In 2018, The Star-Ledger published the force report, an online portal which cataloged each use of force by police in the state. According to Walsh, state officials were then motivated by the public to create their own portal and to reshape the state’s use of force policies. Listening sessions were held across all 21 New Jersey counties to inform the decisions later made by the Attorney General’s office.
In December, 2020, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced a revision of the state’s use of force policy for the first time in two decades. This revision included prohibiting all forms of physical and deadly force on a civilian, except as an absolute last resort, and providing guidance for de-escalation techniques.
“What we are striving to do with this policy is to get police officers to slow down and take time to think if there is a way to resolve this issue,” Walsh said, “The best way is to consider a way to resolve a situation without using force. And if we have to use force we will find a way to use as little force as possible. It should be the last tool that we use.”
Hayducka said police should use force only when necessary. He also advocated for departments to hire social workers to deal with mental health crises, much like Atlantic City’s Police Department has done.
According to Hayducka, the police’s use of physical force should follow what he calls the ‘reasonable, necessary and proportional use of force’ model, where police only use enough force to prevent a possibly dangerous situation.
“We do just enough to bring them under control. We are thinking differently and slowing things down, we want to take our time to de-escalate and talk about what is happening before we have to use force.” Hayducka said, “The best way to say this is that we want to help police officers keep their jobs and to help them make the right decision in a difficult situation.”
Mr. Zebrowski discussed how police should deal with large groups and demonstrations that may become violent. Instead of the police becoming directly involved, which may make the situation more volatile, they should make contact with key members of the group. This strategy will allow them to ease any tensions without causing any more distress, according to Mr. Zebrowski.
In the aftermath of nationwide protests against police brutality, Grewal has been aggressively changing the state’s policing policy and creating more transparency in the department. Last year, Grewal ordered law enforcement throughout the state to release the names of all police officers who were disciplined for misconduct.
On Tuesday, the state launched a new website that details all use of force by police officers. The website includes their names, race, gender, reason for arrest and type of force that was used.