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UPDATE: NJ's Top Cop Urges Police To Use Discretion, Follow COVID-19 Guidelines

NJ Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal
NJ Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal Photo Credit: COURTESY: NJ Attorney General

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal on Monday issued guidelines that law enforcement agencies across New Jersey must follow to protect the public – themselves – from the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Grewal also asked police to consider delaying criminal charges in cases that “do not imminently impact public safety” and requested that prosecutors demand defendants be held in jail pending trial only in the most serious cases.

At the same time, he said, “public safety and victim safety must remain the priority in any such decision.”

“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,” Grewal emphasized.

He cited Centers for Disease Control recommendation that officers should follow, including having a trained EMS/EMT “assess and transport any arrestee you think might have COVID-19 to a healthcare facility.”

Grewal said he’s also directed each county prosecutor to have on-call assistant prosecutors to deal with decisions to charge businesses that don’t follow a curfew established by an executive order issued by Gov. Murphy on Monday.

That includes social gatherings of more than 50 people, the closing of all public and private schools no later than Wednesday, the closing of retail, recreational, and entertainment businesses as of 8 p.m. Monday and the requirement that all restaurants, with or without a liquor license, only offer take-out and delivery services.

Grewal also said authorities also shouldn’t cite any essential businesses for violating laws that limit the hours that they can receive deliveries.

These include grocery/food stores, pharmacies, medical supply stores, gas stations, and healthcare facilities.

The attorney general said authorities shouldn’t enforce any other local laws (such as noise ordinances) that “would inhibit transportation companies from timely and effectively delivering food, medicine, and medical supplies to these essential businesses” during the current health emergency.

Grewal said none of the divisions in the state Department of Law & Public Safety that he oversees will be holding in-person meetings but, instead, must use teleconferencing and videoconferencing whenever possible.

Work-related travel and external meetings also have been suspended “as measures to limit in-person interactions,” he said.

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 have begun doing the same. Some are taking even more extreme measures.

Any departments that are facing staffing shortages because of quarantined officers should consider expanding the use of Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEOs), known colloquially as “specials,” Grewal said.

They also should rely on mutual-aid agreements with their counties and neighboring towns – which is often already done, he said.

Grewal spoke by phone Monday afternoon to state’s police chiefs and other chief law enforcement executives to brief them about the new guidance, as well as measures being taken by Gov. 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,” the attorney general said. “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.”

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