The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee will consider legislation that would create a pilot program creating oversight over the Edison Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit.
Sen. Peter J. Barnes III (D-Middlesex), who sits on the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, proposed the bill three years ago, which is directed specifically at the internal affairs (IA) unit of the Edison Police Department and aimed at holding police officers accountable.
Despite opposition from law enforcement and state officials, the bill (S-395) cleared the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee on March 3.
“If the prosecutor’s office is already in there, that means trouble,” said committee member Sen. James Holzapfel (R-Ocean), who noted he was a former prosecutor. “The prosecutor usually does not want to get involved in police affairs.”
Hozapfel said he does not know everything about what is happening in Edison, however, he said the bill deserves a fair shot to move on to the next step.
The proposed bill would establish a twoyear pilot program in which the attorney general (AG) would perform internal affairs functions for Edison Township.
Upon completion of the pilot program, the bill would require the attorney general to submit a report to the governor and the Legislature concerning the effectiveness of the program. The report would have to include recommendations as to the potential expansion of the program to certain other municipal law enforcement agencies where the county prosecutor has intervened in the operation of the police department.
“This bill will allow an independent entity to conduct the internal affairs function at the Edison Police Department,” said Barnes. “Outside intervention is necessary to ensure that the department is free of favoritism or political sway. This legislation will ensure that local officers are able to focus on their jobs of protecting the public safety of the community.”
Barnes, a lifelong resident of Edison and former councilman, said he has had long discussions with numerous officers of the Edison Police Benevolent Association No. 75, the Edison Police Superior Officers Association, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey, B. Stephan Finkel, assistant attorney general, former acting Attorney General John Hoffman and others about his proposed bill.
Barnes noted that the Edison Police Department has seen recent improvements with the oversight by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office; however, he said the bill is a temporary pilot program to create more transparency and to see if it works or not.
The Edison Police Department, Barnes said, has come under fire recently for officer misconduct and an alleged “botched” IA investigation recently reported in local media.
“The case involves an officer who reportedly coerced a young woman into modeling lingerie in a motel room while wearing his uniform and sidearm and helped her flush her marijuana down the toilet,” he said. “After the Edison Internal Affairs Unit missed a necessary deadline to bring administrative charges, a judge was forced to reinstate the officer, the paper reported.”
Barnes said the township paid the officer’s salary for two years when he was suspended.
He said he has also been apprised of IA complaints that have been “whitewashed” and not fully investigated.
“[These IA cases] have created a nuisance with lawsuit after lawsuit costing hundreds and thousands of dollars [for the township],” he said.
Pat Colligan, president of the New Jersey State PBA, said he has had a candid conversation with Barnes about the bill and said he respectfully disagrees with Barnes’ arguments.
“[I believe] we enter dangerous territory when legislation is created for one town,” he said.
Colligan said the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office has done an admirable job in overseeing the IA unit in Edison since January 2013.
“Prosecutor Carey is a good prosecutor, who is not shy about indicting police officers,“ he said noting that 10 police officers are currently indicted in Middlesex County.
Colligan said something to think about is to start holding leadership in Edison responsible.
Finkel has said while his office shares an interest in solutions regarding integrity, he feels that the system in place is sufficient.
“There are tools in place and at our disposal for when a problem arises,” he said, adding that when departments need greater scrutiny, the county prosecutor steps in and the Attorney General’s Office serves as a moderator.
Finkel said the state has received reports, and the Edison Police Department has shown “very strong improvements” since the county prosecutor stepped in.
There is an option where the state attorney general’s office takes over a police department; however, Finkel said he believes it is not needed in this particular case.
Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan, who commented on Barnes’ legislation at a council workshop meeting in February, said he has continually stated that he welcomes any outside agency’s assistance in the department’s commitment to foster an atmosphere of accountability and professionalism in the Edison Police Department.
He said in essence, what Barnes has been trying to accomplish by proposing legislation that has already been in place since January 2013 when the prosecutor’s office, in conjunction with the AG’s office, started overseeing the department’s IA functions.
Sen. Linda Greenstein, chair of the Law and Public Safety committee, said with Barnes’ strong arguments for the bill and what she has been reading in the media about the Edison Police Department, she supports the bill.