Trying to wade through the dredge of old political feuds and fratures, senators clashed this morning as
they gave a look-see to A-2394 (S-401), which requires each state, county, and municipal law enforcement agency to establish a minority recruitment and selection program in accordance with guidelines issued by the Attorney General.
Acknowledging his fatigue with the long slog of trying to exact long denied civil rights justice and at one point swatting a former Democratic governor in frustration over what he said was insufficient communication, veteran Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) pressed hard for the bill, part of a package of bills aimed at improving relations between law enforcement and minorities, including this one, prime sponsored by state Senator Shirley Turner (D-15).
Under A-2394, each minority recruitment and selection program is required to set specific goals for recruiting and hiring minorities and females, establishing time frames for meeting these goals, and describing methods of evaluating whether these goals are met. Each program is required to determine corrective action to be taken if the agency fails to meet the goals of the program. The bill requires each law enforcement agency to post the recruitment and selection program on the agency’s official website.
The Senate Law and Public Safety Committee ultimately released the bill(s), but not before some sparks flew between Senator Joe Cryan (D-20) and Rice, whose political – and law enforcement – histories intertwine.
Son of John Cryan, the late sheriff of Essex County and at times a fierce political foe of Rice who burgeoned in Brick City’s West Ward by ultimately going through the Cryan establishment, Senator Cryan pushed back on the bill because of what he cited as lack of detail and teeth. “We ought to look at these things in a tone that’s definitive and looking at the future [in particular, crafting legislation that is not subject to the whims of sitting attorney generals],” said the Union Twp. senator, himself the former sheriff of Union County.
Rice, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus and a former Newark cop who fought the Cryan political machine on his way into politics, said, “There are 20 members of the Legislative Black Caucus. A lot of these bills need to be a lot tighter. The senator’s correct.” But Rice worried about lawmakers paying lip service to the bill only to talk it to death on the their side of committee passage before it gets to the governor’s desk. Citing a history of legislative subversion on critical black and brown legislation, he repeatedly expressed the heightened sense of urgency. “It’s not a bill that’s going to pass and we’re going to sit back,” Rice said.
“I know it’s hard to believe but I actually represent people of color too,” said Cryan. “People gave me the privilege and honor of the seat and this bill still needs some work.”
Juggling Rice and Cryan with their Newark history bubbling, state Senate Law and Public Safety Chair
Linda Greenstein (D-14) welcomed Turner to argue on behalf of this bill, part of her law enforcement legislation package. “These bills are a big desire in the Black Caucus Senator Cryan wants to tighten up the bill,” Greenstein said.
“I’d like to make it as tight as possible,” Turner said.
“The Attorney General is going to create guidelines” Cryan told the sponsor. “Attorney Generals come and go. I think the bill should have definitive goal. I took a law enforcement agency with five percent minorities and made it 15%.”
What is the specific goal at hand and what does it cost, he wanted to know.
“It probably will cost more money,” Turner acknowledged. “We need to think outside the box and not keep going to the same fishing hole. It will cost some money for recruiting and one of the possible sources are forfeiture funds.” The Mercer-based senator noted that of 3000 state troopers in New Jersey right now, 100 are women and only nine are African American women. “This is woefully unacceptable,” said Turner. “In 1990, we had a 14% rate of African Americans and today it’s down to eight percent. We’re not doing the job in terms of recruiting minorities.”
Cryan kept on the bill’s need for “just some practical changes. The issue is do you want to put it through as is or make some changes.”
Turner said she would like to talk to Cryan about the bill to insert more teeth.
“It’s not helpful just to say we want to hire more minorities,” Cryan said.
Rice was again ready to speak, but the hearing briefly went in another direction.
“I do believe to have a better interaction between community and law enforcement, the agencies need to better mirror the communities they represent,” said Senator Tony Bucco (R-25). “But I still have some concerns on the protections from law suits and civil service changes for smaller municipalities to be able to meet those goals. I would encourage you to work with us to make those changes so the bill can be effective.”
He would go on to vote for the bill on the strength of Turner’s promise to work with him.
But Rice was not done.
“I come from law enforcement,” said the senior senator. “I’ve been here loner than everyone sitting here. I know the biases in the systems. I don’t disagree in terms of making it better. But what happens is that in this house we tend to bring stuff with the intention of killing it at the same time. I would hope you’d get with Senator Turner right away. In other words, be a party of making it good. I’m tired. I don’t have time for it. I come from the civil rights movement.”
“It’s not happening here,” Cryan snapped.
“We’re on the same page, don’t take it the wrong way,” said Rice. “We’re tired of fighting by ourselves for civil rights. I’ve been around a long time.”
“I’m happy to be a part of it,” said Bucco.
“I know you are,” Rice said. “I’ve been here long enough to say ‘we’ll work on it.’ I need it to happen right away. I don’t need to have another election. To be frank, we’re fighting the sons and daughters of some people.”
Moments later, Rice criticized former Governor James McGreevey. “It offends me that he’s come to testify. He should be talking to us,” Rice said. “We’re not going to agree with him all the time. He tells them what his concerns are and not us.”
“He did leave me a message last night,” Turner said.