The Force Report, a 16-month investigation by NJ Advance Media for NJ.com, represents an unprecedented effort to learn about policing in our state. The publisher filed 506 public records requests and collected 72,607 use-of-force reports covering every municipal police department and the State Police from 2012 through 2016. Once you unbundle the data you start seeing red flags.
They found that the 468 local police departments tend to apply force during about 3 percent of all arrests. That’s in line with the generally accepted average across the U.S. Nonetheless,
- While using force is a normal and necessary part of policing, NJ Advance Media found glaring disparities across the state that warrant review. Ten percent of officers accounted for 38% of all used force.
- Whenever police use force, the stakes are high. At least 9,302 people were injured by police from 2012 through 2016.
- Statewide, a black person was more than three times more likely to face police force than someone who is white. In Lakewood, it was an astronomical 21 times.
- The incidence of use of force rates per 1,000 arrests are highest among small and medium sized departments. (See chart above.) For example, the incidence in Teaneck is 48.9 whereas in Newark it is 28.6.
- The system for reporting use-of-force by police is a mess. Different departments use different forms, making tracking difficult.
- New Jersey fails to monitor trends to flag officers who use disproportionately high amounts of force. The state recently implemented a new early warning system to identify potential problem officers but did not mandate tracking use-of-force trends as a criteria, which experts called a gaping hole in oversight.
- You can also read how excessive force claims cost N.J. taxpayers millions every year.
The report does not indicate which municipality ranked the highest or lowest, but for every municipality you can find the Total Use Of Force, Incidents per 1,000 Arrests, and how many other police departments used force at a higher rate here.
Just so you know: Police have the right to punch you if you’re resisting arrest. They have the right to tackle you if they think you might flee. And they have the right to shoot you if they fear for their lives. For more specifics on every way a police officer is legally allowed to harm another person, ranked.
This is an ongoing series. You can also read:
- How N.J.’s system for stopping potentially abusive cops broke down.
- Cops assaulting black youth in my town was caught on video. Making video public is key to accountability.
- Everything you need to know about how police use force, from A-Z.
When Advance Media presented the findings, state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal offered no defense of the current system, conceding it needed a complete overhaul and promising to make it happen. It is up to all to demand that this overhaul take place.
Charts and illustration from NJ Advance Media