CONFIDENTIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT
ANNUAL REPORT- 2016
The Confidential Investigations Unit (“the Unit”) of the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office was initially established in 1998. Since its inception, the Unit has undergone changes both in staffing and philosophy. Under the direct command of Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal, established standards and practices allow a municipal police agency to seek guidance, supervision and support from the Unit so that the individual department can effectively police and discipline its own. This policy was developed for the express purpose of instilling in the citizenry a confidence that their local police agencies had the ability to act upon a complaint and that intervention from an outside agency was not needed to ensure that a fair result was ultimately achieved. This is a significant departure from a prior philosophy of involving the Prosecutor's Office in the investigation of matters that were purely administrative in nature.
The primary function of the Confidential Investigations Unit can be set forth in the following manner:
- Confidential Investigations
- Background Investigations
- Citizen Complaints
- Law Enforcement Executive Investigations
Additionally, the Unit has expanded the scope of its responsibility to include the investigation and prosecution of matters concerning government and public office integrity.
Law enforcement personnel from the Unit are utilized when an allegation is received either via notification from a municipal police agency, citizen complaint or other outside source, that a police officer or other government or public official may be involved in criminal activity. Depending upon the nature of the allegation, the Unit will generally work in conjunction with the local agency to investigate the matter. This is done pursuant to Attorney General Guidelines mandating police departments to notify the County Prosecutor of criminal investigations of law enforcement personnel. In other instances, members of the unit will work alone when the Prosecutor’s Office is the recipient of the allegation of wrongdoing, or if involvement of the outside agency would impede or jeopardize the integrity of the investigation.
During the course of calendar year 2016, the Unit provided guidance, supervision and support to numerous municipal police agencies as well as conducting the Unit's own confidential investigations totaling 36 cases. There are direct results from the assistance provided by the Unit and from the Unit's own confidential investigations, but there are also indirect results such as the deterrent effect that an effective investigation can have on those persons engaged in wrongdoing which may be the result of ignorance, negligence or a deliberate attempt to circumvent the law.
Pursuant to the revised Attorney General Internal Affairs Policy and Procedures, the Confidential Investigations Unit assumed the responsibility for conducting investigations regarding all complaints made against law enforcement executives. During 2016, 15 of the 36 investigations conducted by the Unit were investigations that involved law enforcement executives.
In addition, in order to assure that all personnel assigned to the Unit complete Internal Affairs training mandated by the Attorney General guidelines, Prosecutor Grewal reviewed and authorized the Internal Affairs course sponsored by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office in connection with the Bergen County Division of Law & Public Safety and the Bergen County Chiefs Association. This training is held at the Bergen County Police Academy, and administered by certified instructors with course syllabus and content drawn in accordance with current Attorney General Guidelines, as an acceptable course that satisfies the mandated training requirements for law enforcement officers in Bergen County who are assigned to investigate Internal Affairs matters.
As with any organization, those persons seeking employment must be effectively screened to ensure their integrity. When seeking employment with a law enforcement agency such as the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, the process must be a painstaking one so as not only to ensure the applicant's integrity, but to ensure that the integrity of the Office is not compromised. Each individual hired by this Office, be they be an investigator, an assistant prosecutor, or a member of the clerical staff, has an opportunity to interact with the public we serve. These interactions will no doubt influence the public perception of the Office. Accordingly each applicant for a position with the office undergoes investigation concerning their family background, financial dealings, educational and prior employment history as well as a criminal background check. Interviews are conducted with persons having knowledge of the character of the applicant. Each person is drug screened as well utilizing the laboratory of the New Jersey State Police.
Each investigation takes approximately one month to complete. In calendar year 2016, 58 such investigations were conducted. At the conclusion of the investigation, the ranking law enforcement officer in the Unit must sign off and make a recommendation as to the applicant's suitability for employment. The process is then repeated by the Chief of the Unit, the Chief of Detectives, the First Assistant Prosecutor and ultimately, Prosecutor Grewal. This process is designed to permit all persons associated with the background investigation to give the Prosecutor the benefit of their review of the candidate and makes for a sound screening process.
Perhaps the most time consuming, yet important function the Unit serves is the screening and investigation process of complaints received by citizens concerning police or other government and public officials. It is to be considered the most important because members of this office are engaged in direct contact with the citizens we serve. The Office will be judged by the citizenry based upon the professionalism exhibited by our detectives, regardless of the merit of the complaint being investigated. It is at times a terribly difficult balancing act that the detective must perform as their function is twofold: to represent the Office to the citizen in a manner that instills confidence; yet at all times acting in a detached, neutral and impartial manner to the individual who is the subject of the complaint.
During calendar year 2016, the Unit received and formally responded to 293 citizen complaints. The manner of disposition ranged from formal investigations being conducted with sustained findings, through determining charges to be unfounded. The majority of the complaints however were dealt with in the manner discussed in the preamble to this report, that is the matter was referred back to the municipality of origin so that the local police agency was given the opportunity to investigate and where appropriate, discipline its own, thereby instilling in the citizenry a sense of confidence in their police department and the officials who operate it.