By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
More than a year after its own Equity Committee recommended Asbury Park create a citizen review board to explore transparency in police disciplinary actions, the City Council has taken steps toward making this a reality.
The council unanimously approved a resolution to appoint a 12-person board – with preference going to members of the Equity Committee – to serve up to 180 days or longer to determine how to create a board in the city. Residents who wish to serve on this advisory committee should submit their applications to the City Clerk’s office.
According to the resolution – endorsed without comment – council members authorized the creation of an ad hoc advisory committee – to be called the CC Exploratory Committee “to study and review the potential creation of a civilian complaint review board or similar type of police oversight board or committee to promote transparency, accountability and public confidence in the police disciplinary process.” The phrase “ad hoc” comes from the Latin meaning “for this” and has come to mean “use for a specific immediate problem or need.”
This committee essentially builds on the work of the city’s Equity Committee which in April 2020 was authorized to review police policies and procedures, and one year later issued a six-page report including eight recommendations; the first recommendation was to create a civilian review board.
“…During the course of the Equity Committee’s work, it became clear to the committee that there exists issues of trust between the community and the Asbury Park Police Department,” according to a city resolution.
Further, “the Equity Committee recognized race and policing is a sensitive issue that must be addressed for the long-term health and well being of the city.”
City officials said creating a civilian review board “would serve to foster transparency and transparency in policing practices and policies which in term would help to promote positive relations between the police and the local communities they serve.” The Equity Committee reports notes that credibility issues are most acute among the residents of the southwestern section of the city, and the police, where crime is higher than in other areas.
While the council made progress on most of the eight recommendations, including hiring a social worker to work with police, implementing more foot patrols and more community policing, the first recommendation – to create a civilian review board – stalled in 2021 after a series of developments, Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn said. Those include the June 9, 2021 directive of then-state Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal that severely limited the powers of civilian review boards.
“You would be hard pressed to find anyone who read it and who didn’t think it stripped the powers of civilian complaints review boards,” Quinn said.
Also, despite the city’s endorsement of two pieces of state legislation that echoed some of the recommendations of the Equity Committee, including S-2963 which would have created civilian review boards in municipalities across the state, and S-685 which would have established a five- year residency requirement for police and firefighters, that legislation “was going nowhere,” Quinn said.
The city had hoped to rely on the legislation and decisions from state law enforcement that would have provided uniform guidelines upon which a city board could be built. Absent that, Asbury Park now is going forward with a committee that will research how civilian review boards have been constituted elsewhere and issue recommendations for establishing one here, Quinn said.
“We’ve been left with doing this ourselves and the first thing we have to do a study and visit the municipalities that have them,” she said.