Updated: Maplewood Township sent out this notification on January 7, 2019: There will be a Community Forum at The Woodland, 60 Woodland Road, Maplewood, New Jersey, on Monday, January 14, 2019, beginning at 7:30 p.m. to review and discuss the Police Use of Force Report. It is anticipated that a majority of Maplewood Township Committee Members will be present at the Community Forum. No formal action will be taken.
Maplewood will host a Community Meeting on Police Use of Force, stemming from the publication of NJ Advance Media’s “The Force Report” — a database on NJ police use of force reports as well as a series of articles — on Jan 14, 7:30pm at The Woodland, 60 Woodland Road, Maplewood, NJ. The meeting was announced at the Maplewood Township Committee meeting on December 18.
The Force Report, unveiled on November 29, is a “16-month investigation into New Jersey’s broken system for tracking and stopping overly aggressive police officers before they cause unnecessary injuries and costly lawsuits. NJ Advance Media reporters filed 506 public records requests and collected 72,607 use-of-force forms covering 2012 through 2016, the most recent full year available.”
Further reporting from the database ranked Maplewood No. 1 in use of force for 2012-2016; Maplewood Police Chief DeVaul said responded that the department is working to address those numbers and that they also reflect a high standard for reporting.
Township Committee members discussed the potential format of the Jan. 14 community meeting at their December 18 TC meeting. Committee members agreed that community leaders — such as the police chief and deputy chief and internal affairs head — should be present at the meeting, but stressed that the community forum should focus on listening to those “most impacted by the report.”
TC member and public safety committee chair Greg Lembrich said that there could be a role for the newly formed Community Board on Police at the meeting and also suggested reaching out to students at Columbia High School and the middle schools.
However, Lembrich’s suggestion to perhaps include Steve Stirling, a local resident and a lead reporter on NJ Advance Media’s “incredible act of journalism,” met with some pushback from TC member Dean Dafis and Mayor Vic DeLuca.
Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee said that he wanted to have Chief Jim DeVaul define use of force and present 2017 and 2018 data on use of force (The Force Report includes data between 2012 and 2016). McGehee said he was interested in seeing if data had been impacted by the actions that the governing body had taken in the past two years since the events of July 5, 2016, when police officers used excessive force in arrested local teens after the annual fireworks.
Lembrich noted that the “Chief has that data at the TC’s request” and will present that data and give his thoughts at the Jan. 14 community meeting.
McGehee echoed the desire to have youth present: “I want those who are directly impacted to be there and be represented and express themselves.”
Beyond stressing that leaders should be present to listen to the community, Mayor DeLuca said that the meeting “cannot be about any individual officer.” He said that such a focus would violate internal affairs rules and collective bargaining. DeLuca said the discussion needed to be “department wide.”
In November, Maplewood Township released a statement in response to The Force Report that stated in part:
The Maplewood Township Committee and Maplewood Police Department are aware of “The Force Report” that has been published on NJ.com by NJ Advance Media. The use of force by Maplewood Police officers is an issue of great importance to the Township Committee and one that merits further review. We recognize that improvements are necessary, as shown clearly in the events of July 5, 2016 and suggested in “The Force Report”. We are striving diligently to enhance safeguards against bias and disparate treatment and to reduce the use of force by Maplewood Police officers as much as possible.
Read Maplewood Township’s full response to the report here.