Empirical evidence from fact-based statistical data is undeniable. Such evidence is very different from feelings, beliefs or suppositions that may be valid, but lack any real proof. Data-based evidence is a very powerful tool and can be a major step toward bringing about change to address critical issues.
About a month ago, a team of NJ Advance Media journalists released “The Force Report,” the culmination of a 16-month investigation. It created a database that tracks use of force by local police officers in New Jersey, compiled from data provided by their departments.
The Force Report is comprehensive, well researched and well analyzed, packed with information on how our police departments engage citizens. The report, covering 2012-2016, validates the experiences of many in the minority community that there are too many biased, poorly trained police officers who have been allowed to use unnecessary force against citizens time and time again.
The findings showed that 10 percent of police officers accounted for 38 percent of all use of force, that there were more than 250 officers who used force at more than five times the state average, and that black citizens are three times more likely to encounter force than whites. This demonstrates unequivocally that police officers throughout the state have sidestepped their own departmental policies regarding the use of force.
The Force Report also shows that the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, at least since 2001, failed to do what they committed to do: collect and analyze use-of-force data in the way that NJ Advance Media has now done.
Until now, I have been silent on The Force Report’s disclosures, waiting to hear how officials or groups that would be expected to react regarding this critical issue had responded. A professional, dedicated, law-enforcement community plays a vital role in our society. We need — and everyone should want — police officers who are dedicated to serving the community fairly and impartially, while realizing that their use of force is sometimes necessary. But data revealing that a small group of officers whose elevated use of force often goes unchallenged, unaddressed, and even unreported by some departments, is a disturbing trend.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, in office for less than a year, has stated that it was always in the attorney general’s office’s power to fix this situation; it just never had. It is a reasonable question to ask, as NJ Advance Media did, why one officer in Millville more used force more times than any other in the entire state. The answer may be because no one had eyes on what he was doing.
Rutgers University criminal justice Professor Wayne Fisher, a former deputy director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, correctly described The Force Report report as an indicator of agencies and officers that deserve further scrutiny. Yet, few, if any, individuals or organizations have provided it.
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has cited The Force Report on the Senate floor, but, as Congress begins begins its new term, I have not heard any House members from our region comment on it. If any state legislators, police chiefs, governing body members, mayors or police union officials in the southern part of the state have responded, I have not heard about it. Nor have I not heard any faith leaders in our area, nor any NAACP state or branch officials, respond. This muted reaction by clergy and advocacy groups appears to be a flawed strategy, one that is not in the best interest of the membership or the public.
Reportedly, civil rights and faith leaders will conduct their own forums to document stories of people who say they were unfairly subjected to police force. Once the sessions are completed, a state NAACP official said the association would “deliver a strong message and plan to the attorney general and administration on our expectations moving forward.”
Really? If the NAACP believes that it is a leading civil rights organization, the time to speak up is right now. There is nothing to meet or talk about, no need to hear from anyone else. Doing so would be unnecessary and redundant. The Force Report says all that needs to be said. Now is the time to focus on the long-overdue steps to correct the problem.
Those in law enforcement already know some of the solutions: better screening of potential officers with increased hiring standards; improved police academy training — including courses taught by criminal justice and social science professionals — not just police officers who can pass on their bad habits to recruits; and better supervision of current officers.
The knowledge and ability to make law enforcement better exists. The will to do so appears to be lacking, as evidenced by the silence from too many regarding The Force Report.
Milton W. Hinton Jr. recently retired as director of equal opportunity for the Gloucester County government, and is past president of the Gloucester County Branch NAACP. Email: email@example.com
Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.