Licensing for law enforcement officers

Police Training Commission Report

Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of moving to a licensing model for New Jersey law enforcement. As I have said on these pages before, just because other states license their police officers doesn’t mean that we need to. Yes, 46 states license their officers — states like Minnesota, California and Texas. I guess the elected leadership in New Jersey wants us to be like them. The difference in New Jersey is that since the passage of the Police Training Act, we are better trained and more accountable than other states.

How do I know this? The Washington Post (which is not sponsoring any law enforcement cigar nights) has collected comprehensive data that shows that we are just better. And while no state is perfect, throughout this process, I kept saying, Did you ever think that New Jersey got something right? We are among the lowest in police-involved deaths. We do most of the things in the “justice in policing” proposals. We train better than anywhere else and we are good at what we do, and they still want another level of bureaucracy.

This is not a new discussion. The PTC has been discussing this for years, but after the murder of George Floyd (which was committed by a licensed police officer), it took on new life. Licensing was coming, whether we liked it or not. The PTC had numerous discussions and drew up the first draft of what is now the legislation in front of the Senate and Assembly. During this time, Rob Nixon, our director of legislative affairs, and I were summoned to the office of a legislator who offered a draft of a bill that we couldn’t support. Fees, mandatory college degrees, affinity groups with seats on the licensing committee. It would have been a complete overhaul that ultimately harmed our members. To seat representatives from groups that want to abolish the institution of policing would have been the end to public safety in our state and the end of many officers’ careers.

Rob and I promptly dissected the bill and made the arguments on behalf of our members to remove harmful language from that version.

Several months later, we were advised that licensing would be a legislative priority for the front office. After numerous meetings with our staff, the front office and the attorney general’s office, who listened intently and ultimately made almost all of the edits we suggested — including the removal of licensing fees for current officers and a system where the subcommittees who would hear license revocations would be made up of two members from law enforcement and one from the public — we were able to agree on a bill that we could live with. This bill will protect our members from having their careers robbed by police administrators who have weaponized the disciplinary process for personal vendettas.

NJSPBA President Pat Colligan, Executive Vice President Marc Kovar and Rob Nixon have always had the philosophy of “I’d rather be at the table than on the menu,” and I believe that in this case we minimized disruption to our members by being at the table.