Acting AG Bruck announces initiatives to promote racial justice using broad authority of Department of Law and Public Safety
NEW JERSEY – Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck Thursday announced an expansive package of initiatives to use the broad reach of the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety to promote racial justice throughout New Jersey.
The package includes a number of significant policy changes, including rulemaking to root out discrimination among New Jersey’s 720,000 licensed professionals and a directive to prioritize racial justice through civil investigations and enforcement actions.
In July 2021, on his first day in office, Acting Attorney General Bruck directed the Department’s 17 divisions to identify specific projects to advance racial justice that they could complete using their existing authorities in the next six months. Today’s announcement provides the first public summary of the projects underway across the Department as part of the “LPS Racial Justice Initiative,” which Acting Attorney General Bruck identified as one of his top priorities in office.
“While the Department of Law and Public Safety cannot fix longstanding racial disparities and injustices on its own, we have a moral obligation to use the tremendous reach of the department to achieve the maximum impact in promoting racial justice,” Bruck said. “I’m grateful that the leaders and staff of our many divisions have fully embraced this crucial initiative. The programs announced today underscore Governor Murphy’s commitment to pursue racial equity for all New Jerseyans, and we’re proud to take on this important work in our department.”
In response to Acting Attorney General Bruck’s call to action, the Department’s divisions and offices proposed a total of nearly 100 new initiatives designed to advance racial justice and equity for underserved communities.
The initiatives—which rely on the Department’s enforcement and regulatory authorities, community engagement, grantmaking, and other tools—include initiatives in the following areas, among others:
- Combatting bias, discrimination, and hate.
- Ensuring fairer treatment for justice-involved individuals.
- Promoting equity and addressing past wrongs.
- Strengthening relationships with the community.
Highlights of the racial justice initiatives being pursued by the Divisions include:
- Acting Attorney General Bruck has proposed anti-discrimination regulations for all professional boards supported by the Division of Consumer Affairs. If adopted, the proposal will make clear that discrimination and bias-based harassment constitute professional misconduct that provides a basis for a board’s disciplinary action. The rule will apply to approximately 720,000 licensees overseen by 51 professional and occupational boards.
- Acting Attorney General Bruck Thursday issued a directive to the Department’s civil enforcement divisions—the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the Division of Consumer Affairs, the Division on Civil Rights, the Division of Gaming Enforcement, and the New Jersey Racing Commission—instructing them to prioritize racial justice when identifying matters for investigation and enforcement. The Directive includes strategies and best practices to ensure that the Department deploys its civil enforcement tools to more effectively serve the needs of historically marginalized and underrepresented communities. No other state attorney general’s office has ever issued a directive that so comprehensively incorporates racial justice into its enforcement priorities.
- The Division of Administration is creating an interdisciplinary grant review team and revamping the process for evaluating grant applications to promote the equitable distribution of funds. The Department awards millions of dollars of grants every year, many of them to assist underserved individuals or victims of crime. The Division will lead efforts to make the teams reviewing grants reflect the diversity of those applying for them, which will promote the equitable expenditure of funds.
- To provide greater access to work opportunities in the alcohol industry for people with histories of criminal justice involvement, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control is revisiting how it implements disqualifications to individuals seeking to be licensed or employed by the liquor industry. This work is focusing on what constitutes a crime of “moral turpitude,” and easing the financial burdens for those applying for reinstatement permits. Additionally, in response to Attorney General Directive No. 2021-8 and following the Division’s acknowledgement of past misconduct against the LGBTQ+ community, the Division will be supplementing its findings on whether its enforcement authority was historically used in a discriminatory manner against marginalized groups.
- The Division on Civil Rights is introducing a training on bystander intervention for the workplace, launching a virtual seminar on the factors that inhibit and encourage bystander intervention, especially in situations involving bias, harassment, and discrimination. Participants also will learn about the Law Against Discrimination and the importance of bystander intervention within the context of civil rights law.
- The Division of Criminal Justice is leading the development of an innovative pilot program focusing on domestic violence occurring in two underserved immigrant and low-income communities. This pilot program, which will be undertaken with one or two County Prosecutors’ Offices, will create a one-year diversionary program for certain domestic violence cases as a means of reducing collateral consequences for victims and the community stemming from police involvement in domestic violence incidents. Eligible participants will be required to participate in court-ordered programming (for example, anger management, substance use disorder counseling) and remain arrest-free, in order for charges to be dismissed.
- The Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor is launching community engagement and outreach initiatives focused on vulnerable communities to promote equitable enforcement of the law. The first will focus on reducing the victimization of and improving reporting of fraud in communities with limited-English proficiency and barriers to communication—communities where past outreach efforts have been insufficient. The second campaign, in coordination with the Elder Protection Task Force, will address elder abuse in underserved communities, marginalized communities, and communities of color through targeted engagement and outreach to key stakeholders, including by working with clergy and community coalitions.
- The Juvenile Justice Commission is revising its mission statement to include a focus on racial justice and ensuring equitable outcomes for youth, and will analyze the implementation of select policies to ensure equitable outcomes are achieved. In addition, the JJC is establishing a community liaison role for a focused engagement with community stakeholders and to provide the community with voice in policy and programming decisions.
- The newly created Office of Justice Data is leading a data needs assessment with the goal of using data transparency to promote racial justice and advance equity in myriad ways. Among other things, the Office will coordinate with the Department’s divisions to identify what data collection or analysis resources are needed to implement racial justice initiatives. The Office also will work with community stakeholders to identify areas of interest and priorities where the Department does not currently provide a comprehensive data picture.
- The Office of the New Jersey Coordinator of Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJCARES) is raising public awareness about the opioid epidemic’s increasing toll on communities of color. In recent years, an increasing percentage of drug-related deaths are occurring among Blacks and Hispanics. NJCARES co-sponsored a statewide webinar this month to share these findings with the public and explore strategies for addressing the underlying causes, and it will make this information available to the public on its website.
- The Attorney General’s public integrity watchdog, the Office of Public Integrity & Accountability, is improving detection of public corruption affecting underserved communities through more inclusive and accessible outreach to individuals with limited English language proficiency and/or other barriers to communication, including the launch of Spanish-language resources for reporting corruption.
- The New Jersey State Police is expanding its Citizens’ Academy program, which is designed to improve community relations by educating and engaging communities, allowing State Police to have more ambassadors throughout New Jersey. The Citizens’ Academy enrolls leaders and members of New Jersey’s diverse communities in weekly classes in which they learn about the responsibilities and operations of the State Police, while also having open conversations with NJSP troopers and commanders about critical issues of mutual concern.
- The Victims of Crime Compensation Office is expanding outreach and training to promote awareness of the agency and to establish trust with and provide support to victims and family survivors. The effort will focus on Victim Witness Coordinators and Hospital Violence Intervention Programs to build trust with impacted communities so they may be more willing to utilize services.
In addition to the package announced today, the Department of Law and Public Safety is continuing its ongoing efforts to promote racial justice in other ways. The Office of Public Integrity and Accountability recently completed a sweeping overhaul of the state’s use-of-force policy to address police conduct that disproportionately affects communities of color and to require regular analysis of racial disparities going forward. The Division on Civil Rights is finalizing rules to implement the historic Fair Chance in Housing Act, which is focused on dismantling systemic racial disparities in access to housing. And all New Jersey State Troopers, as well as all prosecutors and detectives employed by the Division of Criminal Justice and 21 County Prosecutors’ Offices, have received implicit bias training.
Acting AG Bruck also announced today the receipt of resources to help implement aspects of the racial justice initiative through the award of two competitive U.S. Department of Justice grants totaling more than $1 million to combat hate crimes in New Jersey:
- $750,000 for Public Awareness Campaign. This grant, from the Collaborative Approaches Toward Preventing and Addressing Hate Crime-Demonstration Projects Program, will fund a major public awareness campaign using television, print, radio, digital, and social media to encourage New Jersey residents to confront the rising tide of hate by, among other things, recognizing and reporting bias incidents and crimes. It also will fund community events and training programs for law enforcement and victim services professionals.
- $300,000 to Enhance Bias Incident Reporting. This grant, from the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Program, will be used to improve bias incident reporting by funding upgrades to record management systems to enable law enforcement agencies to participate in the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).
The need for action was underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic, which exposed and exacerbated racial disparities that have long plagued our country and New Jersey, Bruck said.
To cite just a few examples, Black infants in New Jersey are four times more likely than white infants to die in their first year; people of color make up approximately 44 percent of New Jersey’s population, but represent over 75 percent of the state’s prison population; and among New Jersey’s Asian American Pacific Islander population—which makes up 10 percent of the State’s total population—36 percent have limited English language proficiency, adversely affecting employment, earnings, and access to services, Bruck said.