SPARTA, NJ-Law enforcement use-of-force data, including statistics from Sparta are now publicly available as part of the new statewide “beta” test dashboard that debuted last week.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal’s Use of Force Dashboard tracks more than 3,000 use-of-force cases from October through February.
“I believe most officers in the state do not have an issue with transparency and documentation of Use of Force incidents so the public may see,” Sparta Police Chief Neil Spidaletto said. “Our officers, like officers throughout the state receive ongoing training pertaining to appropriate use of force as well as training to first try to eliminate the need to use force.”
Spidaletto said crisis intervention, deescalation training and Verbal Judo are examples of training Sparta officers and officers throughout the state have “to try to exhaust all other verbal means before resorting to physical force.”
“Officers do not want to use force in any situation,” Spidaletto said. “It’s stressful and there are so many variables that could have negative consequences. Unfortunately, sometimes it is a necessity and police need to continue to be thoroughly trained to handle these incidents properly.”
Grewal released a directive regarding the Use of Force in December 2020. Some of the items listed as prohibited, had already been banned in New Jersey.
“The Attorney General’s new directive just mentioned certain specific uses of force that had been used across the country and had proven to be problematic in some circumstances,” Spidaletto said.
“Prohibiting all uses of force against civilian except as a last resort and after attempts to deescalate” and “prohibiting choke holds and strikes to the head or neck except as a last resort to protect the officer or other” are examples of actions that were already prohibited in New Jersey according to Spidaletto.
Other items of note in Grewal’s Use of Force guideline update: prohibiting officers from firing at a moving vehicle or engaging in high speed car chase as well as providing guidance on less lethal force.
The attorney general established a “duty to intervene” requiring all officers to intercede if they see excessive force being used by another officer, regardless of rank and a “duty to provide medical assistance.”
Sparta already has policy on these items and has “incorporated the new guidelines into our new policy that has been reviewed by our officers,” according to Spidaletto, though the guidelines to not take full effect until the end of this year.
According to breakdown of the New Jersey data, the Newark Police Department reported 309 use-of-force cases, the highest in the state. Jersey City Police Department, New Jersey Transit Police, New Jersey State Police and Camden Police Department represent the top five agencies for use-of-force, on the dashboard.
According to the dashboard, Sparta had four reported incidents comprising 12.5% of the total police force. Of the four, there were three subjects; one was arrested the other two were not. “Medical/mental health” was the reason cited for not arresting the subject. All three were white, two were men and one was a woman. Two officers were injured with a “fracture/dislocation” and “complaint of pain.” Both were treated at the hospital. No subject was injured during the incident.
The dashboard reports details of the four incidents:
- Brian Porter – “potential mental health” incident, no injury, November 26, 2020
- Matthew Plecher – “domestic” incident, no injury, December 11, 2020
- Philip Longo – “potential mental health” incident, officer injury, November 26, 2020
- Timothy Lynott – “potential mental health” incident, officer injury, December 12, 2020
Only Stanhope showed fewer incidents in Sussex County with one case also comprising 12.5% of the total police force.
“For most officers in the state, I believe the only issue is the lack of understanding from some on how difficult these use of force situations are and the very difficult decisions that are needed to be made sometimes in the matter of seconds,” Spidaletto said.