Updates: Cannabis decisions and PTC licensing rules

NJ State PBA Legal Corner 

By Robert A. Fagella, Esq., and Paul L. Kleinbaum, Esq. 

In the July issue of NJ Cops Magazine, we reported on a decision by an administrative law judge (ALJ) reversing the termination of a Jersey City police officer who tested positive for cannabis without evidence of impairment or use on the job. In Mansour v. Jersey City, the NJ Civil Service Commission recently issued a final agency decision affirming the ALJ’s decision ordering the officer to be reinstated immediately and awarding backpay, benefits, seniority and counsel fees. It is expected that the city will appeal this decision to the appellate division.

PTC adopts final licensing rules
In August, the Police Training Commission (PTC) adopted final rules governing the licensing of law enforcement officers. The rules become effective on Jan. 1, 2024. The purpose of this article is to summarize a few key provisions of the rules. We also are discussing the rules at the NJ State PBA convention in September.

Preliminarily, there has been a great deal of online discussion about social media. The PTC must still adopt rules defining what social media accounts will have to be disclosed. However, the rules do not require officers to provide passwords.

Initially, all current permanent law enforcement officers will be granted licenses for one, two or three years. The purpose of staggering the licenses is so that the commission and law enforcement agencies do not have to consider everyone’s license renewal at the same time. Thereafter, licenses will be renewed every three years.

What happens when it comes time for an officer to renew his or her license? The officer must submit an application through his
or her law enforcement agency to the PTC six months prior to the expiration of the license. The application must include certifications from the officer and the chief law enforcement executive. In the certification, the executive must attest that the officer meets the requirements for renewal of a license. The executive must also ensure that contemporaneous background checks are performed. The officer must attest that he or she meets the standards of eligibility to be a law enforcement officer, including that the officer has not engaged in any conduct or been the subject of any action that might be grounds to refuse to renew the license.

The rules provide a laundry list of conduct that could result in refusal by the commission to renew a license. Examples of the type of conduct that could result in a refusal include: making false statements on a license application; conviction of a crime in New Jersey or any other state; conviction of an act of domestic violence or conviction of an offense that would preclude the officer from carrying a firearm; conviction of a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense involving dishonesty, fraud or a lack of good moral character; or conviction of two or more motor vehicle offenses for operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol or for reckless driving. The rules do not require denial of licensure renewal in these circumstances but also require the commission to consider certain specified mitigating factors.

Other examples of conduct that could result in a refusal to renew a license are: proof that an officer engaged in excessive force or failed to take steps to intervene when another officer uses, or is about to use, excessive force; was untruthful in any administrative, criminal or other matters in the officer’s professional or personal life; has been, or is, a member of a group that advocates overthrow of the government; or knowingly engaged in any social media activity exhibiting discrimination or bias towards individuals or groups protected by the Law Against Discrimination. These are just a few of the reasons listed in the rules specifying grounds on which the commission could refuse to renew a license.

The PTC can also request additional information that it deems relevant. Examples of relevant information which may be requested include a summary of an officer’s IA file or the officer’s entire personnel file.

The license of an officer who is active and in good standing and who has submitted a timely completed renewal application prior to the expiration date will continue to remain in effect until the commission acts on the renewal application.

What happens if the commission decides to refuse renewal of a license? If the commission learns of information which could be grounds for denial of licensure renewal, it must complete a preliminary review of that information to determine if there is sufficient information to warrant further investigation. It must notify the law enforcement agency and the officer that it is conducting a preliminary review.

If the commission determines that it will refuse to renew a license, the officer may request a hearing. The hearing will be conducted by the commission, by the PTC Licensing Committee or by a hearing officer. However, if the commission’s investigation reveals grounds requiring mandatory denial of licensure renewal (i.e., conviction of certain crimes), the officer will be served with an order of denial and given the opportunity to submit a written response.

But, if the matter is referred to a hearing officer, the hearing officer will conduct a hearing and submit a written report to the licensing committee with a recommended disposition. The licensing committee will make a recommendation to the full commission, which will issue a decision. The commission’s decision is appealable to the appellate division.

This summary is just a very small sampling of the rules that have been adopted. We urge all officers to read the complete rules, which are available through the NJ State PBA. As noted, rules dealing with social media accounts still have to be addressed by the commission.

We will continue to monitor these rules and any action taken by the Commission and keep the NJ State PBA and its members informed.