Untrained Fake ‘Cops’ Abuse Power in New Jersey: Bill Would Change That

NEW JERSEY — Police have exchanged gunfire with two suspects following the 2019 mass shooting that targeted a kosher market in Jersey City. As sworn law enforcement sealed off the neighborhood and engaged in a highly organized response, an untrained volunteer showed up uninvited and drew his gun.

It was the Essex County officer, who later testified to the New Jersey Board of Inquiry that he never received any guidance or supervision for the job — let alone any professional preparation for it. help the police during the attack which left six dead, including three civilians, a policeman and the two attackers.

Too often, New Jersey officers misrepresent themselves as sworn law enforcement, engage in policing activities beyond their narrow authority and abuse their position for personal gain, according to a December report of the State Commission of Inquiry. Volunteers — often untrained, sometimes armed and largely unsupervised — insert themselves into police business in ways that can compound the danger, the report says.

The commission recommended that cities and towns eliminate the post of constable, and state law enforcement officials agree. Efforts to eliminate the Mounties gained momentum in the state legislature.

“These results underscore the fact that constables are outmoded relics that have no place in the highly organized and sophisticated system of modern law enforcement,” the report said. “Rather than serving as a beneficial addition to the police, the role far too often poses a potential danger to the officers themselves, the police they claim to want to help, and the general public.”

The use of police officers predates the development of modern policing by centuries. The British brought the law enforcement system to the colonies from the United States in the 1600s. In New Jersey, constables functioned as law enforcement before modern police departments took root in the mid 1800s.

Modern, organized policing has made police officers obsolete, and the lack of oversight of their post gives them far more potential to harm than help the public, say New Jersey law enforcement leaders . Towns and villages can still appoint constables. The state commission of inquiry investigated more than half of New Jersey’s cities and towns, identifying 136 constables in seven counties. But investigators believe the actual number of constables in New Jersey is likely higher.

One sponsored by Democrats State Senate Bill that would eliminate the position of constable received unanimous approval on May 19 from the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. Additionally, Deputy Minority Leader Ron Dancer (R-12) sponsored a identical measure in the state Assembly – indicating at least some support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the state.

“Cops are routinely accused of impersonating certified law enforcement officers,” said State Sen. Gordon Johnson (D-37), who sponsored the Senate bill. “This misrepresentation is extremely damaging as it often results in their involvement in matters beyond their authority and can degrade trust between true law enforcement and the community.”

According to the state report, New Jersey Mounties often portray themselves as law enforcement through their appearance and actions. They often wear self-purchased badges that resemble those of the police. Some use walkie-talkies to communicate with other members and engrave law enforcement slogans such as “Protect and Serve” on their vehicles, according to the state commission.

The state report noted several incidents in which they say state police officers abused their authority. These include a constable who faced criminal charges for impersonating an officer after an argument with a taxi driver in Newark. According to the state board of inquiry, the constable stopped the driver and asked him to show his motor vehicle credentials.

Another sought to be appointed as a constable in Union Township in 1989 because he thought the badge that came with it would make his job as the legal documents department easier, the report said. The man testified that wearing a badge commands a certain level of respect that helped him deliver documents, according to the state investigation.

Some cities and towns have found police officers doing helpful tasks, such as installing child car seats and locking down local parks at night. But the state board of inquiry says municipalities might as well arrange for a part-time employee to perform the same duties.

The New Jersey County Prosecutors Association, the Association of State Chiefs of Police and the Benevolent Association of State Police Officers also believe the position is outdated.

“To end these ongoing abuses and resolve the inherent uncertainties of the position, we urge the repeal of laws that allow untrained and unsupervised individuals to receive municipal appointments as constables,” the chief said. John Zebrowski, president of the Association of State Police Chiefs. “Immediate action in this area is particularly critical at this time as legitimate law enforcement strives to strengthen their relationships with the communities we serve. These incidents of highly questionable conduct by officers only serve to undermine those efforts.”

Read the full state constable report here.

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