NJ Attorney General releases investigation data on local police

SUSSEX. The state compiled the investigative actions against officers in over 500 NJ police agencies, including those in Sussex County.

| 09 Sep 2022 | 02:02

Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin recently released information about police agencies’ Internal Affairs investigations online, in a searchable dashboard capable of filtering data by law enforcement agency, the types of allegations involved, and what, if any, disciplinary action was taken.

The Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity & Accountability (OPIA) issued the dashboard as a tool for both law enforcement and the public to show the prevalence of various accusations, where they are surfacing, and how they are being dealt with by the Internal Affairs review process.

The dashboard, available at njoag.gov/iapp, centralizes de-identified Internal Affairs information that had been scattered among hundreds of agencies — information that had not previously been collected in a uniform way, or shared with the public in a standardized format.

“Fostering strong relationships between law enforcement and communities is essential to public safety. Transparency, fairness, and mutual respect are foundational to building that essential trust,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “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. Every effort to improve accountability among our esteemed law enforcement officers today will help better protect our community members tomorrow.”

Data dive

How do our police agencies stack up? First, let’s look at the state as a whole.

According to the dashboard, there were 12,662 Internal Affairs investigations launched in the state in 2021 that included 9,134 officers and 10,207 unique incidents. Of those, 7,156 were against white officers, 2,165 against Black officers, and 2,144 against Hispanic officers. The race of the complainants broke down as follows: 3,530 were white, 3,266 were Black, and 2,918 did not provide a race. A little more than half of the complaints came from civilians, and the vast majority (58.2%) of complaints were listed only as being a non-specified “rule violation.” The next most frequent complaint was for demeanor (15.9%), followed by the non-specified “other criminal violation” category, at 7.8%. About 6.7% of the complaints were for excessive force.

Regarding investigation outcomes, for 31.4% of the complaints from 2021 Internal Affairs found evidence that the officer did violate the law, rendering a “sustained” verdict. Of those, 20.7% resulted in an oral reprimand or warning as their disciplinary act, 20.3% received a written reprimand, 20.1% had to receive training or counseling, 15.7% (476) resulted in suspension without pay, and 4.5% (136) were discharged from employment. Roughly 66.7% of the criminal complaints against officers were dismissed by Internal Affairs. The average length of investigation by Internal Affairs was 56 days.

Investigations per municipality for 2021

Locally, complaints are relatively few, with some notable exceptions. Note as we go through local date: the Internal Affairs dashboard did not include a breakdown of New Jersey State Troopers by local barracks, only investigations against troopers for the state as a whole. As such, that data was not included in the local breakdown.

Andover (2020 population: 5,996): The Andover Police Department had two investigations launched against two officers for separate incidents – one was for a suspected criminal violation and the other was for a suspected rule violation. The investigation into the rule violation found that the officer did violate the rule, and they received a written reprimand in response. The outcome of the criminal violation was not available. Both investigations were launched by a government agency and not civilians.

Byram (2020 population: 8,028): The Byram Police Department had eight investigations launched against eight officers. One complaint was for excessive force, two were for “differential treatment,” two were for demeanor and the rest were for rule violations. All eight complaints were launched against the officers by civilians. Of those eight, seven have been resolved: four were determined to be unfounded, two were exonerated and one was simply closed, possibly due to not having sufficient evidence to support the complaint.

Franklin (2020 population: 4,912): The Franklin Police Department had seven investigations against seven officers launched in 2021, all rule violations. Six of those complaints were filed from a government agency. Four of the complaints were sustained, two were listed as “not sustained,” meaning there was not enough evidence provided, and one was ruled unfounded. Three of the four officers whose investigations were sustained were suspended without pay; the fourth one received a written reprimand or warning.

Hardyston (2020 population: 8,125): For 2021, Hardyston police had just two investigations filed against two different officers, both for rule violations. One of the complaints came from a government agency while the other came from a civilian. One was sustained while the other was not sustained. The officer found guilty of a rule violation received a written reprimand.

Hopatcong (2020 population: 14,362): Hopatcong police had 11 investigations opened in 2021 against eight officers for six unique incidents. Of those, five complaints were for differential treatment, two were for demeanor, two for improper search, and two for other rule violations. All but one came from civilian sources. Ten of the investigations have been resolved, with six resulting in not-sustained verdicts, three being exonerated and one being sustained, which resulted in a written reprimand.

Newton (2020 population: 8,374): Internal Affairs opened 21 cases against 13 Newton police officers for 19 unique incidents in 2021, most of which were from civilians. Roughly 13 of those cases (or 61.9%) were for demeanor violations, four were for rule violations, three were for excessive force, and one was for an unspecified criminal violation. Seventeen of those cases have been resolved: eight were exonerated, eight were sustained, and one was unfounded. Of the eight that were sustained, five received a written reprimand, two had to receive training or counseling, and one was discharged from employment.

Sparta (2020 population: 19,600): For 2021, Internal Affairs opened 33 investigations against 17 Sparta police officers for five unique incidents. The majority of those investigations were for rule violations (75.8%). Additionally, five of the complaints alleged demeanor violations, two were for other criminal violations and one was for improper entry. Thirty of the complaints came from an agency source; the remaining three were from civilians. All complaints have been resolved: a substantial amount (26 or 78.8%) were sustained; the remaining were either closed, exonerated, not sustained or unfounded. Of those 26, 14 resulted in the need for training or counseling, eight required an oral reprimand, two resulted in suspensions without pay and two got a written reprimand.

Vernon (2020 population: 22,358): Despite Vernon being one of the largest municipalities in Sussex County to have a dedicated police department, the Vernon police had just four complaints against four officers for two unique incidents. Half of them were demeanor complaints and half were rule violations. Two of the cases were deemed unfounded, one was not sustained and one was sustained. The complaint that resulted in a sustained verdict by Internal Affairs also resulted in the disciplinary action of suspension without pay.

Sussex County (2020 population: 144,221): The Sussex County Sheriff’s Office had five investigations launched against five officers, all for separate incidents. All of the investigations involved rule violations, three of which were launched from an agency source. To date, four of those investigations have been closed. Three resulted in a sustained verdict and one was found to be unfounded. Two of the sustained cases resulted in a written reprimand and the other received an oral reprimand.


Note that one year of data is not indicative of the average actions of a particular police department. (The Internal Affairs data set is currently limited, so year-over-year comparisons could not be made for all agencies.) We also cannot necessarily connect the number of investigations to things like total population, or even population density. Newton is the most densely populated municipality of those listed above, but Sparta had the most investigations launched against its officers. Sparta’s population is more than double that of Newton’s, so one might think that population plays a role. But Vernon’s population is the largest of the listed municipalities and had the third fewest number of investigations launched. And the Sheriff’s Office, which has jurisdiction across the whole county, also had very few investigations launched against its deputies.

But if we look at this one year of Internal Affairs investigations, we can see that written or oral reprimands appeared to be the most common form of discipline for that year. It was also rare for an officer to be dismissed from duty, though it did happen to at least one officer in Newton. Still in one year alone, six Sussex County-based police officers were suspended without pay, 16 needed additional training or counseling, and one was let go. Most investigations did not result in disciplinary action.

As the Attorney General’s office explained, this dashboard and the continued collection of data will help identify any patterns and see whether policies or procedures need to be changed.

Tom Eicher, executive director of OPIA, said, “Not many agencies or states release this information. Bringing this data to light will enable the public to look with a broader lens to see if the internal affairs system is working the way it should be.”