Editor’s Note: This story is a follow up to “ACLU admits to providing incorrect information” which appeared in LocalSource last week, on March 7.
UNION COUNTY — Information released by the American Civil Liberties Union in February made police departments in Union County appear to not be on the ball about police officer complaints from the public. But revised information showed the news is not all that bad for most towns.
Although initially the ACLU did not realize that survey information obtained by volunteers had been interpreted wrong by a staff member and then relayed to LocalSource, last week this was corrected.
Apparently the ACLU mistake involved interpretation of how the five questions were posed by volunteers and how that information was relayed by the communications spokesperson.
The questions included whether a complaint could be filed by telephone, anonymously or by a third party and if a juvenile could file a complaint without a parent present. The fifth question involved undocumented residents being able to file a complaint without fear immigration authorities would be contacted.
Revised information, which was sent to Union County Prosecutor Theodore Romankow by the ACLU, detailed how each question was answered by police departments in the towns called.
• Union County Police, who were not included in the first ACLU release, was incorrect on third party calls but correct on all other questions.
• Clark was incorrect on all questions but immigration.
• Cranford answered two questions correctly, including whether a complaint could be filed over the phone or anonymously, but then directed the call to a supervisor who was not in at the time. The volunteer then called back but the call was coded as “bad access” by the ACLU.
• Elizabeth was correct on all questions except whether a complaint could be filed anonymously.
• Hillside actually answered all questions correct, as opposed to the first release which said they got the last two questions wrong.
• Kean University police, who were not included in the first release, were incorrect on all questions except the last one on immigration.
• Linden, who registered a complaint with the ACLU about the results “was incorrect on 3rd party, correct on telephone, asked caller to call back in 15 minutes, other questions not asked.”
Acting Police Chief James Schulhafer registered his objections via letter to the ACLU, noting that the department was very well informed about the law but the caller caught this particular officer while he was alone and juggling many calls. The police chief thought the information released by the ACLU was “misleading.”
• Mountainside answered all the questions correctly. The caller said the police officer was “awesome and very knowledgeable.”
• Kenilworth was incorrect on the telephone and anonymous questions but correct on the remainder.
• Rahway was incorrect on telephone and immigration questions, indicating “it had no bearing on the investigation, but he wasn’t positive.”
• Roselle answered all questions correctly.
• Roselle Park was incorrect on the third party question but answered all other correctly, saying “Even if drunk or stoned we will take your complaint.”
• Springfield transferred the call, but because no one responded it was coded as “bad access.”
• Summit told the caller to call back, so the contact was coded as “bad access.”
• New Providence was correct on all questions except immigration, where the officer did not think they would be called but was not certain.
• Westfield answered all questions correctly.
• Winfield told the caller to call back, and it was coded as “bad access” by the ACLU.
According to Alex Shalom, policy counsel and author of the report “The Crisis Continues Inside Police Internal Affairs,” all complaints about police officer misconduct should be accepted from all persons who wish to file a complaint regardless the hour of the day or week.
“At no time should a complainant be told to return at a later date to file his report,” Shalom said.