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September 09, 2022

N.J. dashboard provides information on police internal investigations in effort to promote transparency

Attorney General Matthew Platkin said the platform aims to enhance trust between residents and law enforcement

Government Police
New Jersey Police Investigations Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

On Wednesday, Attorney General Matthew Platkin and other state officials announced the launch of the Internal Investigations Dashboard, an online platform that documents every open and closed internal investigation conducted by police departments.

New Jersey has launched an online dashboard that allows residents to review internal investigations conducted by police departments across the state, Attorney General Matthew Platkin said Wednesday. 

The Internal Affairs Dashboard is a searchable database where users can filter different information by each agency and county. The tool is an effort to provide more transparency and accountability for law enforcement officers.

People will be able to search for allegations that have been made, investigation outcomes and what, if any, disciplinary actions have been taken. There will be no identifiable information about the officers included within the data. As of Friday morning, the dashboard has information from 2021 through April 28 of this year.

"Fostering strong relationships between law enforcement and communities is essential to public safety," said Gov. Phil Murphy. "Transparency, fairness, and mutual respect are foundational to building that essential trust. Our state's new dashboard testifies to the profound understanding of our law enforcement officers that such trust is forged by meaningful actions that reflect the crucial importance of this profession." 

Along with being able to access data from police departments, users also can do side-by-side comparisons of individual agencies. The comparison tab gives a brief snapshot of information, including the average length of an internal investigation, outcomes of closed cases, where the complaints come from, and race and ethnicity information.

According to the dashboard, more than half of complaints against officers have come from civilians. The majority of allegations are for unspecified rule violations, but 15% of active investigations are based on allegations of officer demeanor, while 9.2% are from unspecified criminal violations, and 7.2% are based on allegations of excessive force. 

There are 12,662 active investigations as of 2021, involving more than 9,000 officers. More than 10,000 investigations have been closed, and the average length of an internal investigation statewide is just over three months. 

Across the entire state, just 10.5% of civilian-reported complaints were found to be "sustained," with 31% found to be "exonerated," meaning the investigation found that the officer was innocent. Among those reported by the agency or other law enforcement, nearly 60% of the complaints were sustained, while less than 10% were exonerated.

"A positive perception of police accountability and trust is vital to ensure our citizens feel protected and our law enforcement officers are supported so that they can do their jobs efficiently and safely," said Jeffery H. Sutherland, president of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey. "Without the public's support by being the eyes and ears of law enforcement, our officers would not be able to serve their communities and ensure public safety." 

In 2021, 2,917 active investigations were opened across South Jersey, the details of which are largely similar to that of the entire state. Among 2,230 closed investigations in that same year, 20.7% of complaints made by civilians were sustained, while 33.1% were exonerated. 

Among those reported by law enforcement agencies, 69.4% of allegations were sustained, while just under 8% were exonerated.

Of officers whose criminal accusations were sustained and found to be true, 94.1% were dismissed from their positions. Those who were not accused of crimes were often verbally reprimanded or given a written warning, according to the dashboard. 

35 law enforcement agencies did not report any internal investigations in 2021, and therefore have not been included in the dashboard. The Office of Justice Data said it will update the dashboard on an annual basis as new information is submitted.

Additional enhancements also are coming later this year, including information about how specific complaints are made, and whether the types of allegations change as the investigation is underway. 

The Internal Affairs Dashboard is just one of several initiatives from the Attorney General's Office and Murphy aimed at enhancing transparency and accountability among law enforcement. Recently, the state instituted a police licensing requirement. In 2021, the state launched a website to allow residents to view data of every incident of physical force by an officer in New Jersey.