NJ attorney general revises vehicle pursuit policy
On April 29, the New Jersey attorney general issued Law Enforcement Directive 2022-4, which revised the motor vehicle pursuit policy. However, it is important to note that the policy still contains a provision (Section 14) that allows individual agencies to adopt a policy that imposes additional restrictions on vehicular pursuits. This means that the revised directive does not supersede a more restrictive agency policy that prohibits officers from pursuing stolen motor vehicles. I always encourage all officers to review and know the law, the AG’s policies and their specific agency’s policies.
Reporting of noncompliant pursuits
Pursuits that are determined to not be in compliance with the AG’s policy or agency policy shall be forwarded quarterly by municipal and county agencies to the county prosecutor’s office for review. Statewide agencies and county prosecutors’ offices are bound by the same requirement, but they forward their occurrences to the director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability or their designee for review.
The revisions now require officers to activate the motor vehicle recorder (MVR) and body worn camera (BWC) if equipped and activation is possible without activating emergency lights while closing the distance between two vehicles.
Definition of imminent threat
The definition of imminent threat was clarified and now states that “[a]n imminent threat exists when an officer reasonably believes that the actions of the violator are immediately likely to result in death or serious bodily injury to another person absent action by the officer.” Keep in mind that the policy still requires the determination of a violator being an imminent threat based upon the violator’s actions or operation of the vehicle prior to the initiation of the attempted motor vehicle stop. For the “imminent threat” category, the policy still prohibits using a violator’s subsequent actions, including speeding or evasive driving during the pursuit itself, to initiate or continue a pursuit.
Additional criminal offenses
Subject to all of the restrictions throughout the policy, six new crimes have been added, which expands when a pursuit may be authorized. The following weapons offenses now appear on the list of the policy’s “serious” second-degree crimes:
- Possession of a Firearm, Explosive or Destructive Device for an Unlawful Purpose, N.J.S. 2C:39-4(a) through (c).
- Unlawful Possession of a Weapon (Machine Guns and Handguns), N.J.S. 2C:39-5(a) and (b).
- A separate sub-paragraph was added to the policy for new offenses that are less than second-degree, and it includes the following offenses:
- Burglary of a Dwelling, N.J.S. 2C:18-2.
- Theft of a Motor Vehicle, N.J.S. 2C:20-3; N.J.S. 2C:20-2(b)(2)(b).
- Receiving Stolen Property (Motor Vehicle Only), N.J.S. 2C:20-7; N.J.S. 2C:20-(b)(2)(b).
- Bias Intimidation, N.J.S. 2C:16-1.
With respect to the addition of burglary, this was in the original version of the policy but only as a second-degree offense. For burglary to be a second-degree crime, the actor needs to be armed with a weapon or injure a victim. The revised policy adds third-degree burglary, but only when it is the burglary of a dwelling. Burglary of a commercial building, motor vehicle, shed or any other structure described in N.J.S. 2C:18-1 is still not included in the policy.
With respect to the addition of theft of motor vehicles and receiving stolen property, the revised policy includes these offenses until at least December 31. The new policy also includes a directive for the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability to review data on these offenses and motor vehicle pursuits to determine whether these two new provisions (auto theft and receiving stolen property) should remain or be modified. Absent additional action, these provisions will remain in force after December 31.