A recent report issued on November 10, 2022 by the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller found various flaws in the training provided to New Jersey State Police (“NJSP”) officers. Deficiencies in officer training is an issue that must concern everyone. Here are some of the issues discussed in the report.:
- Training on such issues as the “Use of Force” policy deviated from the established curriculum, and instructors who were observed during training sessions appeared to have no interest in the training. At least one instructor described sections of courses dealing with issues such as culture and diversity in very negative terms. Another instructor reduced the time allotted to discuss prejudice and discrimination, and omitted a video on hate crimes that was to be shown as part of the course.
- Representatives of the NJSP Training Bureau are supposed to observe instructors to determine whether training is being presented appropriately, and to identify areas where training can be improved. Feedback from instructors indicated a lack of consistency in how and/or when such evaluations would be conducted.
- There are supposed to be formal eligibility and selection criteria for instructors. Some instructors are being allowed to provide training without first demonstrating that they meet these criteria by, for example, submitting resumes or being interviewed.
- NJSP does not ensure that officers who are promoted complete leadership training courses within six months of their promotion. Troopers who are promoted are supposed to complete rank-specific training within that time period.
- Academy recruits are not asked for feedback concerning specific courses in the form of course evaluations.
- NJSP lesson plans for specific courses fail to adhere to best practices for adult learning.
- NJSP has no policy or practice of regularly reviewing lesson plans and course materials.
The report also makes a series of recommendations to address the deficiencies including, but not limited to, the following:
- Training should be conducted in accordance with the requirements of the training materials. Training times should not be shortened, and exercises should not be removed or ignored.
- The process for observing and evaluating instructors, particularly new instructors, should be standardized and mandatory.
- Instructors should be interviewed before they are hired.
- Leadership training courses for promoted officers should be completed within six months of an officer’s promotion.
- Feedback for specific courses should be solicited from attendees.
- Training materials should be revised to include and/or reflect best practices for adult learning, curriculum development and proficiency assessment.
- Lesson plans should be reviewed annually.
- The NJSP Training Bureau needs to evaluate its staffing needs with an eye towards increasing the size of its staff.
The report focused on State troopers, buts begs questions concerning the quality of the training received by other law enforcement officers in New Jersey. The fact that it is in everyone’s interest for all New Jersey law enforcement officers, whether they be State Troopers, local police officers, Sheriff’s officers or prosecutor’s investigators, to receive the best possible training is beyond dispute. Training needs to be current and thorough. It needs to be taken seriously by all participants. It also needs to be periodically evaluated to determine whether changes and updates are required. Given the tasks that law enforcement officers perform on a daily basis, some of which literally call for life-or-death decision making, proper training is essential.
James S. Friedman, Esq., is a criminal defense attorney based in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Mr. Friedman represents defendants in criminal cases in the New Jersey Superior Court in all counties, all New Jersey municipal courts, and the United States District Courts in New Jersey and New York City.