It’s official: Federal oversight of the New Jersey State Police ended today after 10 years when a federal judge signed an order dissolving a consent decree.
The oversight was mandated an April 1998 incident on the New Jersey Turnpike in which officers fired into a van carrying four unarmed minority men, injuring three.
The agency moved quickly, and for the past several years it has received high grades for its training, supervision, inspection and auditing of the management of its troops. Earlier this year, a federal monitor from the U.S. Justice Department said it was time to rip up the consent decree.||
“It’s a watershed moment for the division,” State Police Superintendent Rick Fuentes said. “The practices that we’ve employed and the reforms we’ve instituted have instilled public confidence and trust.”
An office within the Department of Law and Public Safety will monitor data on motor vehicle stops, trooper misconduct and disciplinary actions. The state comptroller will follow up by auditing the department’s traffic stops, internal affairs and training and issue public reports.
The decree itself “has given us the tools with which to improve our supervision and the technology to bring us to the forefront of modern policing,” Fuentes said earlier this year.
With two-thirds of its force hired after the changes were first instituted, the reforms have become part of standard operating procedure, said the colonel, who inherited the situation when he took over as its superintendent.NJSP Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes
Fuentes said the entire experience has also benefited the public by creating an agency that’s now “more professional, more accessible and more transparent.”
Video cameras are now used in all patrol vehicles and commanders are able to track personnel information via computer, he said.
“The State Police continue to function as an organization that is able to… monitor its activities and adapt to changes in the legal and criminal justice environment,” the federal monitor’s report concluded.
The monitors also cited “effective supervision of motor vehicle stops, together with in-service training programs” designed to address some of the decree’s original concerns.
“Supervisory and management reviews focused on correcting mistakes by individual troopers during the development of reasonable suspicion during motor vehicle stops,” the report says. “The New Jersey State Police Academy developed in-service training programs designed to address the principles of search and seizure during motor vehicle stops.
“These responses to an emerging problem provide direct support for the conclusion that the State Police has evolved into an organization that can analyze and correct problematic law enforcement activities on a “real time” basis.
“The State Police should be lauded for its response to this issue,” the monitor concluded.
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