MR. GREWAL: Tom, thank you for having me. It's an honor to be here.
MR. JACKMAN: Great. Let's give our audience a little context about where you are in terms of police reform. So, you're appointed. You're not elected. So, you presumably don't have to worry about fundraisers and the political winds. And you have authority over local and state police, which most attorneys general absolutely do not. But at the same time, you're a law enforcement guy. You're a federal prosecutor, and the Bergen County prosecutor, so you have a law enforcement background. And yet you're adamant about police reform. So how did you get to that point, which occurred long before George Floyd? And explain to our audience what some of the things are specifically that you want to change about the police in New Jersey.
MR. GREWAL: Well, thank you for having me, Tom, and thank you for that introduction. As you noted, I am appointed. And one of the great freedoms that I have is the ability to do the right thing for the right reasons. I don't have to worry about how things poll. I just have to make sure that it's good policy, that it promotes public safety, that it promotes law enforcement safety.
So, from day one, well before the events of this past summer, we've been focused on improving policing. We want to improve policing because we understand that there has been an erosion of trust between law enforcement and the communities that we serve. And so, we have taken steps here in New Jersey to truly reimagine policing. We're limiting most recently through our use of force policy when and how officers can use force. We're also collecting data about every last use of force incident in our state. We're holding officers accountable when they use force improperly. And we're retraining as we speak, right now, all 38,000 police officers in my state on these new policies.
This isn't just one police department. It's over 500 police departments. It's not just one municipality. It's every municipality in our state--urban, rural, everything in between. And it's the most ambitious policing reform in the country. And I, as you noted, have the luxury and ability to do this without having to go through a legislative process. I have oversight authority over law enforcement in this state, so I can act quickly and address issues that I see that are coming up across the state and issue these policies.
But I haven't done it that way. I've done it in a manor where I've gotten broad stakeholder input, whether that's law enforcement engagement, whether it's community stakeholder engagement. And we've done it through a collaborative process. That's why you may have seen, as we've announced many of these policies, members of the PBA standing with us when we've announced these policies, members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP; NOBLE, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives; the ACLU of New Jersey, all coming together, supporting these policies because they understand that it's important for public safety and for law enforcement safety.
MR. JACKMAN: Well, so you talk about training, and a number of police experts would say, you know, you can have the policies, but you've got to have the training. But the training costs money. And does that put you at odds with the progressive folks who would say, you know, when you have--we have to redirect funding away from police. You have to either defund the police or redirect funding away? So how have you gotten along with the folks who say you need to be more radical in how you fund these things?
MR. GREWAL: You know, defund the police is a difficult concept for me to understand because I don't think it's ever been properly defined. You know, we heard a lot about calls to defund the police over the course of last summer in the protest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and as a result of the movement for Black lives that we've seen in this country. And my approach is that we need to smartly fund law enforcement. We need to thoughtfully fund law enforcement. We need to support programs that allow for me to train law enforcement officers on de-escalation techniques, that allow for me to provide the type of training I need in connection with our use of force policy to train law enforcement officers to slow down, to hold the scene. When someone's not presenting a threat to anyone but themselves, there's not a rush to go in there. So that's part of the training that we're undertaking right now, to make sure we buy time to allow those mental health professionals to come in.
I think if you talk to a law enforcement officer who became a cop 20 years ago, no one wanted to do this. No one signed up to be a mental health counselor, a treatment professional, a domestic counselor, or I mean a marriage counselor, for example. It's because so many other systems have broken down that you had law enforcement now being the ones that are being called to these scenes. So, I can't abdicate my responsibility to give them the tools they need to assess these situations and deal with them right now.
And to your point, training is a critical component to anything we do. I could roll out the best policies, I could have this use of force policy which I think is best in class and it's something no other state is doing at the scale we're doing it and in the way we're doing it. But I also realize that culture eats policy for breakfast. And that's why the two-day training that we're doing for all 38,000 cops on this policy is absolutely critical, as are the accountability pieces that we've put in place to make sure that our use of force policy is being adhered to and it's being--that law enforcement officers are following it.
MR. JACKMAN: I was going to ask you about--I've seen you say that before, that culture eats policy. And so how are you getting along with the police unions in these proposals? I know that when you proposed the release of names of officers involved in shootings, they pushed back hard on that. But you may be getting buy-in from them. They're typically people who oppose some of these changes. So how have the unions reacted?
MR. GREWAL: You know, you're right that when we did push the policy, we pushed a directive on transparency to provide information about where law enforcement officers have fallen short. It was called our Major Discipline Directive. While we are ahead of the curve and lead on many issues when it comes to policing reform, one place where we fall short is on transparency when it comes to law enforcement discipline. As it stands now, we don't provide that information to the public. But we feel that transparency is a powerful tool, that we need to give the public information about how their local law enforcement officers are doing. If they fall short, if they're suspended for major discipline, the public has a right to know that. And in that case, I issued a policy without going through a robust process like we did around use of force, because I felt it was necessary in that moment to have this information out there for accountability purposes. That policy is not being challenged in our state Supreme Court. We've won at the appellate court, and we're confident that we'll prevail next month because we believe the policy is lawful and is good public policy.
With respect to use of force, as I alluded to earlier, we had a robust process. We started this work well before the events of this past summer. We had community listening sessions in all 21 of our counties, over a thousand public comments. We had law enforcement executives, including members from our police unions, our chiefs associations, other civil rights stakeholders, as part of that. We had that type of engagement because this type of systemic change, when you're changing for the first time in 20 years how we imagine public and civilian interactions when it comes to the use of force, it is such a dramatic sea change in law enforcement, we needed to have that type of buy-in. Not everybody got everything they wanted in that process. But as I mentioned a moment ago, when we announced it, everyone stood behind it because they realized that this policy, this new framework is something that's needed for both public safety and for law enforcement safety.
MR. JACKMAN: But are you concerned that police officers will pull back, that they'll be reluctant to intervene when force is warranted? This is a concern I've certainly heard from a lot of officers, that they'll be reluctant to be proactive because of the intense scrutiny of their actions now, and especially as we've seen a rise in violent crime in many parts of the country this year. As that a concern of yours?
MR. GREWAL: You know, I don't think that's a concern with respect to this policy of pulling back because we are putting too many restrictions on the use of force. As I said, this policy was developed with their broad buy-in and input. What we are doing is we're just asking them to think more critically about those situations where force is used. And where they have to use force, they are permitted to use force under this policy. They are not compromising law enforcement safety or public safety.
But what we are doing--and just to break it down a little bit more about this policy--you know, we're stuck with these terms "use of force." This is the vernacular in policing for decades, and that's what this policy is called. It's a use of force policy. But it's organized around core principles, seven core principles that everyone, including police executives, rank and file officers, all expressed their support for as we were developing this policy. And the most fundamental principle where we started our policy is that in every interaction, in every possible interaction we are going to respect the sanctity of life. We are going to respect the dignity of all persons with whom we interact. That is a non-controversial statement. And from there, we say we are going to do everything possible to deescalate a situation before force is used. That's also non-controversial. There's universal buy-in for that.
And we're saying that when force is used, only use that force that's reasonable, proportional and necessary, and deadly force as the last resort. There's universal buy-in for that. Non-controversial. When you have to use deadly force, you can use it. But you have to go to these other points first to deescalate a situation, to look for other reasonable less than lethal uses of force. And where deadly force is required and justified, you're permitted to use it. But we're limiting the situations in which that occurs, and we're putting more guardrails around it.
MR. JACKMAN: I want to switch up just a little bit to talk about another police topic that police chiefs are particularly concerned about, and that is suicides among officers. What is happening there? It's a real problem in the police world. And what can be done to stem the tide?
MR. GREWAL: You know, as I mentioned earlier in one of my responses to your other questions about all the additional work that law enforcement officers are now being asked to do, they are the ones who are responding to overdose scenes, they are the ones responding to suicides, they are the ones responding to horrific violent crimes. And all of that has a traumatic effect on our officers, and we've seen that. And we've seen that--the result of that being an uptick in law enforcement suicides not just across the country but also in my state. I had a dear, someone I call a friend, an officer who I met only on a handful of times but we had made plans to engage in some community outreach activities back in 2019--sorry, 2018--who ended up taking his own life.
And that had a profound effect on me, because he was someone who I saw as the epitome of a law enforcement officer, someone who is so involved in community policing and really was someone you wanted to represent your department. But when he took his own life, that forced me to think about what we're doing for officers. We give them all these tools like bulletproof vests to deal with the external threats, and we give them the best equipment to deal with all sorts of confrontations or issues that may arise in the field, but we don't give them enough tools to deal with those internal threats, that trauma that I just mentioned a moment ago.
So, I've stood up a statewide resiliency program, where we're trying to train officers to spiral up in the face of adversary in these types of--these types of traumas instead of spiraling down. And we've created a confidential system where they could seek help when they need it. And we're trying to change the mindset that asking for help is a sign of strength, not of weakness. And we think that also leads to better policing, when we can give our officers the tools they need to address these issues, they're going to act better when they're engaging with the community and not let these issues, you know, affect their interactions with members of the public. So, it's something that we have to certainly do more about, because it is an issue across the country. And it's something top of mind where New Jersey has a statewide resiliency program for law enforcement officers that other states should look at as a model of good policy and good policing.
MR. JACKMAN: That's an impressive collection. Your office began developing these reforms not just for police suicide but for police reform in general long before the killing of George Floyd. So, what's your thoughts on how far the country has come on police reform in the last couple of years? This is not a new thing. So, are we making progress?
MR. GREWAL: You know, there's certainly much more work to be done. There was a lot of momentum this past summer. We saw bipartisan support for legislation at the federal level, and then we saw nothing be enacted, or very minor reforms be enacted. And so, we're not waiting for the federal government to take the lead here. Going back to what you were talking about a moment ago, I have authorities that allow me, working with law enforcement leaders and others, to address these issues, and we've been doing it from day one. We've been pushing issues of professionalism. We want law enforcement to rethink our we're training our cops. The transparency issues that we just mentioned about more information about where officers fall short, we've developed accountability measures. For example, we're tracking already every use of force in our state electronically in a portal where law enforcement officers now must report that use of force within 24 hours. No other state's doing that. All of our law enforcement executives have visibility into how their departments are doing, the county prosecutors in the countries where those law enforcement agencies operate have visibility there, as do I.
Now this is something that the Justice in Policing Act at the federal level contemplates, and there's been talk about these types of databases at the federal level, but it's never been done. And so, we're not standing by for the federal government to show us the way here. I think we have a great model in New Jersey on use of force, where, again, a policy that applies statewide on tracking the use of force, on officer resiliency, on training issues statewide, how we can do better in our academies to promote officers who are going to exhibit that guardian mindset that we all want right now.
So, we're doing it here in New Jersey. More definitely needs to be done, and I think for me this is a top priority and it should be for other state AGs as well. And if the federal government acts, we would welcome that because, again, it just really shows how this should be a top of mind issue for public safety, and again, in law enforcement across the country.
MR. JACKMAN: So, let me ask you about something that you did last summer, which was that you attended a Black Lives Matter protest last June. Why was it important for you to be there?
MR. GREWAL: So, you know, I attended several Black Lives Matter protests this past summer. Community engagement has been something that I've been doing since day one. You can't just walk to a protest and get in the front of the line with protestors who are asking for more police accountability. The reason that I was able to march with those protestors, the reason why chiefs across our state were able to march hand-in-hand with Black Lives Matter protestors or others demanding more accountability, is that we've been doing that hard work of building community trust since day one, since well before the events of last summer.
I have said time and time again that the erosion of trust has undermined public safety, and it undermines law enforcement safety, that because of events in other states and other parts of this country, there are wide gaps between law enforcement and the communities they serve. A tremendous amount of distrust in those gaps. And we have to do everything we can to bridge those gaps and build that trust. So, we've been going to church basements, we've been going to school gymnasiums, we've been going to community centers and doing community marches well before this past summer. And why was it important for me to do that? Why was I allowed to march with those protestors? Because it was an acknowledgement. It was an acknowledgement by me as the state's chief law enforcement officer that systemic racism exists, that it pervades, that we have to do all we can to dismantle these systems that have taken hold over the last 400 years and led and contributed to that erosion, led to deep, systemic, and implicit biases in the criminal justice system, and that by me being there was an acknowledgement that I see those protesters, I hear their concerns, and I share their commitment to getting this right, to make sure that the horrible videos of last May don't replay on the air again ever, that we don't see videos like that in my state, that we instead see videos like we've seen in Camden recently in my state, or in Atlantic City, where in Camden for example, a person with a knife was confronted by law enforcement officers. He didn't pose a threat to anybody but himself at that moment. So, they secured the scene and they walked with that individual for block after block after block, for over 40 minutes or so, until the man dropped the knife. I've seen other videos where people rushed in and had to use deadly force in a similar scenario. I'd rather see the videos where somebody drops the knife because we've done all we can to train our law enforcement officers to resolve situations peacefully.
So, by marching with those protestors, by pushing these policies, I'm reaffirming my commitment to make sure we dismantle these systems once and for all in this recking we're having on race in this country.
MR. JACKMAN: Speaking of videos, we saw a lot of videos of the attack on the Capitol on January 6. How concerned are you about extremism within police departments after the Capitol riots?
MR. GREWAL: I'm deeply concerned. We've seen in the reporting to date evidence that there were former law enforcement officers at the Capitol on January 6th, that there were former military members at the Capitol on January 6th. And we know historically from events that have taken place in my own state that there has been 3 Percenter presence in law enforcement, that there may be Oath Keepers who are a member of law enforcement in my state.
And so, I'm deeply concerned. We're working with our division on civil rights to do a survey of white supremacist activity in our state, to provide informational material about what the signs and insignia of these groups are, and to make sure that our chiefs are being vigilant to weed it out from their departments so no one's wearing these patches, that that type of officer is not anyone we want in policing this state. And we're working doubly hard to make sure that in the recruiting process for law enforcement officers, that we're weeding out those types of individuals who hold those beliefs, because it has absolutely no place in law enforcement.
And I think January 6th was the culmination of four years of drawing these people from out of the shadows. These are people and groups in my state that did not protest openly. But as we saw over the last four years, they started to come out into the open, and more and more people started brandishing their insignias and their signs. And so, I'm doing everything possible to push them back into those dark recesses of the internet to make sure that they have infiltrated law enforcement; to where they have gotten into law enforcement, or if there's any sort of expression of that type of belief in law enforcement, that I use my accountability measures to hold those folks accountable.
MR. JACKMAN: And similarly, we've seen a rising tide of discrimination and attacks against Asian Americans across the country over the past year. What's contributed to that tide? I saw that you guys do a bias report every year in New Jersey, and there--the last report was for 2019, and there were a lot of incidents. What's contributing to that, and what can be done?
MR. GREWAL: So, we've seen again over the last five years or so a normalization of hate in this country and in New Jersey. Over the last five years the number of bias incidents reported in my state has escalated dramatically. You know, in 2019 we had almost a thousand reported incidents of bias and hate in New Jersey, culminating in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in my state's history, in Jersey City, where two gunmen took four lives, including that of a law enforcement officer. In 2020, the numbers sadly are going to be higher than in 2019, when our 2020 numbers are finalized. And you're seeing certainly an uptick in anti-Asian bias.
And you know, none of this has been a surprise to us as what's contributing to it. Now we've been really raising the alarm over the last three years that it is the president's--former President Trump's rhetoric, hateful rhetoric and the rhetoric of his enablers, that is drawing these folks out of the shadows, that people feel as if this type of conduct is now normalized. So, you've seen it from the campaign of President Trump through his early administration, from Charlottesville all the way to the Capitol and every point in between where his rhetoric has normalized this type of conduct.
And it's also the algorithms in the social media companies that have pushed and allowed hate groups to find community online, to organize online, and again to normalize it for folks. Whereas if someone went into the public square and said these hateful things, they'd be called out. But instead, these algorithms push people with these hateful ideologies to each other and allow them to find community and comfort.
And so all of that has contributed to a normalization of hate, which has been reflected in an uptick in incidents of bias and hate, to include everything from graffiti to physical attacks on individuals. And so, we're doing a lot about it. We're holding people accountable where we see it. We are focusing on our young people through our governor's Youth Bias Taskforce, where we're going to go into schools, push an anti-bias curriculum to address this in our young people to not let them get on these paths to hateful conduct and beliefs.
MR. JACKMAN: As a Sikh man and a public official who you've spoken about personally experiencing profiling and discrimination, how does that inform your work and your sense of justice?
MR. GREWAL: You know, I--my public service journey began in the wake of September 11th. I was a lawyer in Washington, D.C., at 12th and E St, and I remember going to work that morning and seeing the news of the towers fall, and I remember coming together with my colleagues and watching the television. And I remember feeling that same sense of patriotism that all my colleagues felt at the time.
But then in the days afterwards, I also saw a darker side of things. I saw that people who looked different, that people who looked like me were being targeted because people mistakenly thought that we were somehow responsible or sympathetic to the people who had attacked our country. I saw an uptick at that time in incidents of bias and hate. And I saw how if we let these beliefs become normalized, where it could take us.
And so, in that moment I wanted to do something about it, and I chose to do something by becoming a federal prosecutor to do my part, not only to ensure public safety but to do my job looking the way I do and believing the way I do, to let people know that this is America. This is America. That you don't have to look or believe a certain way to be American. And so, I wanted to promote understanding through my work every time I got up in front of a jury and said I represented the United States. And that's what I've tried to do throughout my career in any position I've held, to not only improve the community in which I'm working or in the role that I'm serving and to contribute to public safety but also to promote understanding, because I know how hurtful and how deeply impactful bias and hate can be.
And so, it's my hope that by doing this work I leave my state in a better position for my daughters who are growing up, who share my faith, who share my cultural and religious values, that they can live their truths freely, that anyone in my state can live their truths freely, that they not feel intimidated in going about their lives because of their religion, their race, their gender identity, that they are accepted and that they feel comfortable. And so, that's been a through line throughout all of my work. And so, my status as a visible minority has just made me want to do all that I can to make sure that we're living to the best values of our country.
MR. JACKMAN: You've mentioned social media for the rise in hate crimes and discrimination. Is there a regulation we need to deal with this? Do we need--does Congress need to revamp Section 230? Where do we go on that?
MR. GREWAL: Well, certainly, you know, 230--Section 230 of the Communications Indecency Act has been a shield that social media companies have wielded to prevent them from being held accountable, and so we're looking at that. We're looking at ways to hold social media companies accountable regardless of Section 230. Certainly, if it's repealed it makes it easier. But we don't think that we are completely inhibited from taking action against social media companies because of Section 230.
But, you know, I wrote a letter and I led an effort by State Attorneys General to ask Facebook to do more. And this was not recently. This was last summer, because we saw them giving platforms to an anti-Semitic group that was operating in our state and contributing in part, we've alleged, to the rise in bias that we were seeing against our Jewish brothers and sisters in New Jersey. And so, working with Facebook, using other tools, we were able to deplatform them and to make sure that Facebook was doing more. But occasionally they would show up again on other platforms. So, we have challenged Facebook and asked them and other social media companies to do more. And certainly, January 6th has been a wakeup call for social media companies to show more responsibility and to understand that their algorithms allow bigots to find community and that they need to do more to police their own platforms.
MR. JACKMAN: Well, we're just about out of time. And I have one last question for you. I wanted to ask you about a specific case that is not in your office, so I think you can be more candid about it. And I think everybody wants to know how did Bruce Springsteen get arrested in New Jersey?
MR. GREWAL: Well, first thing's first. I'm glad you noted that it wasn't in my office, that it was our federal partners policing a national park who held him accountable and resolved the case. I don't know. I think you get certain privileges and immunities by being the Boss, and I'm glad--I'm glad--
MR. JACKMAN: Apparently not.
MR. GREWAL: What's that?
MR. JACKMAN: He didn't get any privileges. He got arrested.
MR. GREWAL: Yeah, yeah. No, I said you should get some privileges and immunities for being the Boss. But listen, I'm a big Bruce fan, and that one hurt. That one hurt. And I think he acknowledged where he fell short, and thankfully it wasn't more serious conduct which we don't have tolerance for regardless of who engages in it. But that's a tough one. I'm glad it wasn't me.
MR. JACKMAN: Well, thank you for speaking with us today and for, you know, dealing with my trivial questions there at the end.
MR. GREWAL: Love it.
MR. JACKMAN: And thank you for joining us today. Stay with us for another chat at 2:00 p.m. today when my colleague David Ignatius will speak with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. I'm Tom Jackman and thanks for watching Washington Post Live.
[End recorded session.]