Urban News Staff Reports

Acting to bring greater diversity to the ranks of law enforcement, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Ron Rice introduced a trio of bills to address the obstacles encountered by minorities and reform the hiring practices in order to make police forces more inclusive.

The three bills would analyze the make-up of police forces and other law enforcement agencies, maintain a statewide database tracking membership, create a mentoring program to improve recruitment, and have the state Civil Service Commission undertake a series of initiatives to break down the institutional biases that block equal opportunities for minorities.

“We can bring more diversity to police forces and other law enforcement agencies by breaking down the barriers that make it much harder for minorities to join the ranks and to be treated fairly,” said Senator Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Salem/Cumberland). “They can help applicants overcome some of the institutional obstacles and biases that minorities face at the same time we help make police departments better reflect the communities they serve. This is a matter of equal opportunity and social justice.”

“New Jersey is the most diverse state in the nation and we should have a police force that reflects the residents and communities they patrol,” said Senator Rice (D-Essex). “As a former Newark police officer, I understand that diversity in our departments is crucial for building trust between the police and the people. This legislation will help us build that diversity in departments that so many municipalities need.”

Senator Sweeney and Senator Rice, the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, credited the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) for their work on developing the legislation with “thoughtful, practical and substantive ideas.”

“I applaud the leadership and commitment of Senators Sweeney and Rice in their efforts to improve the quality of policing in New Jersey,” said Jiles Ship, President, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, New Jersey Chapter (NOBLE NJ). “NOBLE NJ looks forward to working with the New Jersey Senate to put these important reform bills into effect that will enable us to build and sustain the trust between law enforcement and New Jerseyans.”

The three bills:

The Diversity Analysis and Oversight bill would have the Civil Service Commission develop and maintain a statewide database to collect and track the background information of the make-up of all law enforcement entities as well as candidates seeking positions. The database would include all background information of the applicants and the threshold decisions made for their selection or disqualification.

This will help ensure that the commission would have all relevant information to better understand the reasoning behind selection decisions. The bill would also require the commission to develop a universal background application to be used by all law enforcement agencies.

The Diversity and Inclusivity bill would have the Civil Service Commission conduct an analysis of law enforcement agencies in New Jersey to determine racial composition, salaries, geographic and socio-economic variances and the impact of residency requirements.

The bill also calls for the creation of a program that provides low-cost prep courses for the entry level exams for residents of low-income communities and possible scholarships for alternate route programs that qualify applicants for law enforcement positions.

The Mentoring bill would have the Civil Service Commission establish and maintain a program to assist minority law enforcement candidates through the application and selection process. The mentors would be current or former law enforcement officers who would help others navigate the application process with workshops, group discussions, and individual consultations.

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