When it comes to corruption, the Garden State has never taken a back seat to anyone. However, a comprehensive review of the level of documented police corruption in New Jersey is enough to shock even the most jaded resident.
Across the state, local governments have spent millions in settlements to cover up the crimes of bad cops.
In a state with the highest property taxes in the nation – and some of the highest law enforcement salaries and most generous pensions – the revelation of such settlements struck a double whammy.
Not only are there too many crooked cops protected by municipal officials, but it's another example of New Jerseyans' hard-earned tax dollars put to work in ways that don't benefit residents. These abuses involve 19 dead because of police misconduct, 131 people injured, 7 sexual assaults and a host of lesser crimes.
466 Police Departments
New Jersey, the fourth-smallest state in the nation, boasts 466 individual police departments. That's a major part of the problem. Many of these departments consist of fewer than 23 officers.
Service runs in families – many of the local departments have multiple members of the same family wearing a badge. Every single department has its own internal affairs system. A telling fact: Since 2011, at least 64,353 internal affairs complaints have been filed among the 466 departments.
Of those, just 226 resulted in an officer charged with a crime. Sadder still, only 90 were convicted.
Internal affairs investigations are usually haphazard. No one bothers to interview eyewitnesses, complaints are considered unfounded if the investigator can't get in touch with the victim, and if several officers are involved in an incident, interviewing more than one is the exception, not the rule.
No Method to Ban Bad Cops
If you're a lawyer in New Jersey and commit a crime, expect disbarment. If you're a cop and break the law, there's no license to revoke.
Only six states – and California is one of them – share with New Jersey a lack of police licensing. A town may pay off a bad cop to resign and leave the locale, but that doesn't mean these individuals won't end up in another law enforcement position.
Here's another quirk: Of the 466 police departments, 113 have no written policies requiring random drug tests. Cops with a drug habit in these jurisdictions not only won't get caught on a random test, they are working to “protect” residents while under the influence.
The Death of Tamara Seidle
Bruce Springsteen fans are familiar with the seaside city of Asbury Park. A hip town full of trendy restaurants, art galleries and music venues, it was the scene of a gruesome murder of a police officer's former wife at the hands of her ex-husband in broad daylight.
Tamara Seidle was gunned down in her vehicle, her 7-year daughter by her side, by her husband Philip Seidle. The June 2015 murder shocked the Jersey Shore, but perhaps more shocking was the fact that Seidle, a police officer in nearby Neptune Township, had an internal affairs record that went back nearly 20 years – and consisted of more than 600 pages.
Several of the complaints against him involved domestic disputes between him and his wife. The couple had a total of nine children. At one point, Seidle's weapon was taken away from him, but he got it back. He used it to fire 12 bullets at Tamara. Seidle has been sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.
Atlantic City, Where Bad Cops Can Do No Wrong
Gambling mecca Atlantic City has edged near bankruptcy in recent years. Perhaps not coincidentally, it's a place where errant cops can thrive. Take office Andrew Jacques, who was the subject of two lawsuits for brutalizing victims.
The city wouldn't reveal the settlement amounts, but a federal judge referred to Jacques as “volatile” and “short-fused.” Jacques is no longer serving as a police officer. Instead, he's collecting disability pay to the tune of $101,620 annually.
Then there's Sterling Wheaten, who is still serving on the force even though the city has paid out $4.5 million in settlements on five lawsuits filed against him – with no admission of wrongdoing.
Wheaten, the subject of no less than 15 internal affairs investigations, earns $108,548 a year.
Will the System Change Under Murphy?
As of January 16, New Jersey has a new governor. Democrat Phil Murphy took over the office from Republican Chris Christie, a governor who left with the lowest approval ratings in the country, a mere 15 percent. The Murphy administration claims it will prioritize criminal justice reform. That remains to be seen, but for the people of New Jersey, it can't come soon enough.