TRENTON, NJ – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal Monday issued guidance to law enforcement agencies across New Jersey on steps to take to fulfill their duties to protect the public as effectively and safely as possible in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grewal spoke by phone this afternoon to the state’s police chiefs and other chief law enforcement executives to brief them regarding the new guidance, as well as measures being taken by Governor Murphy and the Department of Law and Public Safety to address the rapidly evolving situation.
“Faced with this unprecedented health crisis, our work as members of law enforcement is more important than ever,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Our law enforcement leaders and officers are among the best in the nation, and I know that, working together, we will rise to this challenge. The guidance we are offering today represents commonsense measures, supported by health experts, to keep our officers safe while meeting our duty to protect our communities.”
The letter distributed to all County Prosecutors and Law Enforcement Chief Executives addresses several critical areas:
Keeping Officers Safe. The guidance specifically adopts best practices for law enforcement issued by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), recommends other social distancing measures, and lays out the process for law enforcement agencies to request additional personal protective equipment.
Relatedly, the Attorney General directed that divisions in the Department of Law & Public Safety may no longer hold in-person meetings and instead must use teleconference and videoconference capabilities whenever possible. Work-related travel and external meetings also have been suspended as measures to limit in-person interactions. The New Jersey State Police are also observing the CDC guidelines while communicating with civilians. For anyone who walks into the lobby at a State Police station, there is a glass partition between the visitor and the trooper to act as a barrier. To help keep conditions sanitary, every station is being cleaned twice daily. Local police departments are being urged to replicate these best practices.
Addressing Staffing Challenges. Law enforcement agencies facing staffing shortages due to officers contracting COVID-19 or becoming subject to quarantine are advised to exercise options including expanding use of Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEOs) and relying on mutual aid agreements with their counties and neighboring municipalities.
Charging Decisions. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors are asked to consider delaying the filing of criminal charges in cases that do not imminently impact public safety. In addition, they are urged to consider the issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic in deciding whether to seek pre-trial detention, while noting that public safety and victim safety must remain the priority in any such decision.
Enforcement of COVID-Related Violations. The letter informs all Law Enforcement Chief Executives about the rules contained in Executive Order 104, and directs each County Prosecutor and the Division of Criminal Justice to have Assistant Prosecutors and Deputy Attorneys General on call 24/7 to assist in law enforcement officers in making charging decisions for any violations of the Executive Order. The Attorney General’s guidance relates only to violations of the Governor’s Executive Order, and does not extend to the violations of COVID-related county or local orders.
At the same time, because Executive Order 104 makes clear certain businesses are essential—including grocery/food stores, pharmacies, medical supply stores, gas stations, and healthcare facilities—the letter instructs officers to not enforce local ordinances that limit the hours during which those companies may receive deliveries, as well as to not enforce any other local ordinances (such as noise ordinances) in ways that would inhibit transportation companies from timely and effectively delivering food, medicine, and medical supplies to these essential businesses, during the pendency of the Public Health Emergency.
Enforcement of other Emergent Matters. Notwithstanding any court closures, law enforcement officers will continue to take all necessary steps to protect the public, and on any day where courts are closed, officers will handle all applications for Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs) and Temporary Extreme Risk Protection Orders (TERPOs) as they would on holidays, nights, and weekends.