Appointed by the governor, Grewal doesn’t have to face voters, and state law grants him authority over all 38,000 law-enforcement officers across more than 500 state, county, and local agencies—a larger combined workforce than the FBI or any police department outside of New York City. The changes that Grewal is announcing today are the first major revisions to New Jersey’s use-of-force policy in more than 20 years. The new policy requires officers to use the least amount of force necessary, and only as a last resort; mandates that officers give clear warnings and an opportunity to respond before using force; and expands the definition of deadly force as an “absolute last resort” that encompasses sitting or kneeling on a person’s body or striking them in the head or neck. Officers are also banned from firing on vehicles in most circumstances, and the policy adds more limits on when the police can chase a suspect by car. The policy includes a requirement that officers intervene when another officer is using excessive force. Officers who violate the new policy could face consequences including counseling, retraining, termination, and criminal prosecution, the attorney general’s office said.
To help enforce the new policy, Grewal is also unveiling a first-in-the-nation reporting portal through which agencies across the state must document all uses of force by their officers or risk investigation by county prosecutors or the attorney general’s office. A public version of the portal will debut next year.
Collectively, the changes will put New Jersey at the national forefront of police reform, joining Colorado, which in June passed legislation to revise its use-of-force policy, ban choke holds, and expand the use of body cameras. Colorado acted in the middle of the protests over Floyd’s death and amid renewed scrutiny over the death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man in Aurora, while in police custody nearly a year earlier.
Read: The state where protests have already forced major police reform
Grewal has, like many Democratic state attorneys general in recent years, made aggressive use of his authority to position New Jersey as a progressive bulwark against the Trump administration. In 2018, he issued a directive strictly limiting how much cooperation state and local law-enforcement agencies could give to federal immigration agents. Over the summer, a group of 17 Democratic attorneys general, including Grewal, wrote to Congress asking lawmakers to grant state attorneys general more power to investigate constitutional violations by local police departments.
Yet Grewal’s broad individual authority has allowed him to go further on police reform than most of his colleagues, who are constrained either by statutes or electoral politics. New Jersey is one of just seven states whose attorney general is not elected. “I got that extraordinary luxury of not worrying about a policy’s polling and about, you know, how this is going to sound at a fundraiser that I have that evening,” Grewal told me. “I just have the luxury of being able to do the right things every day for the right reasons, and we’re doing that. And so that’s the goal, man.” (Although Grewal boasts about his freedom to ignore political considerations, others have mentioned him as a possible replacement for Senator Cory Booker if the New Jersey Democrat joins the Biden administration.)