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TRENTON- State President Peter Andreyev testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee today regarding juvenile crimes, car thefts and burglaries.

Testimony of Peter Andreyev
New Jersey State PBA
June 13, 2024

Thank you Chairman Stack and members of the Committee for this opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Peter Andreyev and I am the President of the 30,000 member New Jersey State PBA. I am joined today by my Executive Vice President Michael Freeman.

We are glad that you are having this hearing today because New Jersey can no longer ignore that we have an ongoing problem with juvenile crime, the use of juveniles by criminal gangs to do their dirty work and a growing mentality among minors that they are untouchable when they break the law.

Before I discuss some underlying problems related to juveniles, car thefts, burglaries and other problems I want to be very clear on our position. I believe there is great value, not only for public safety but morally as well, to do what we can to keep minors out of the criminal justice system. Some teens are forced into crime. Some find it through lack of options in life. And some simply make mistakes. None of us want to see someone spend a lifetime in jail starting at a young age if we can help it.

Deferring juveniles from prison is a worthy goal. But it should not be a policy that fails to address the risks posed by not considering a punishment equal to the crime. Unfortunately, the State of New Jersey has gone too far in one direction in its criminal justice policy over the past decade that we are seeing criminal organizations take great advantage of it.

Some serious crime like car theft and burglaries occur as a crime of opportunity. A car is left running or unlocked. A house left unsecured. Valuables left on a counter in a store unattended. These crimes happen every day.

But what we are seeing Statewide is a coordinated use of minors by criminal organizations and our criminal justice policies do little to aid law enforcement in fighting back.

The vast majority of car thefts that occur in NJ are committed by members of criminal organizations. These groups use juveniles for scouting neighborhoods and to steal the vehicles because there is virtually no chance of detention when they are caught by police, and everyone involved is keenly aware of this fact.

And this is where our State policy becomes an impediment to us. Without the threat of detention we can’t effectively build a case against the ring leaders who are adults that pay the juveniles for each car they steal. The juvenile may be caught but they are right back to the neighborhoods looking for more cars to steal.

And since juvenile crimes are not part of the bail reform scheme when that same individual is caught over 18 the entire process starts from scratch as if they had no criminal record.

And for those who doubt that our hands are tied in this fight I point you to Attorney General Directive 2020-12. This policy essentially mandates the issuance of a Complaint-Summons in Lieu of Complaint-Warrant before a juvenile is immediately released into the custody of a parent, guardian or custodian. Crimes like residential burglary, vehicle theft and eluding are not graded sufficiently for presumption of detention unless there is a firearm present or there is death or serious bodily injury.

The juvenile “employee” who is caught will therefore be released in a matter of hours to return to work causing very little disruption to the car theft business. The social ills that may produce the mindset that car theft is a viable job opportunity are beyond our scope, but criminal investigations often require cooperating witnesses who are interested in self-preservation by providing information about their accomplices to avoid or minimize the consequences they face.

It is universally known that there are no consequences for a juvenile taken into custody that would incentivize them to inform since they must be released within 6 hours in almost all cases under the AG Directive I referenced.

I also don’t need to remind any of you that in the last few years we have seen an explosion of disruptions from pop-up parties to underage drinking to mass hysteria on our boardwalks and parks. This is also a direct result of changes made to the adjudication of minors who are drinking or using cannabis.

As many of you know, we did not oppose the legalization of cannabis for adults. But since the enabling law was passed we have been told time and again that nothing stops a police officer from using their many “tools” to deal with drunk or rowdy minors. I must tell you honestly that whatever tools you think we have the law has simply tied our hands and the result is there for all to see.

For your information, I have been a police officer in Point Pleasant Beach for over 30 years. I was in charge of the Boardwalk for many of those. I have dealt with drunks, crowds, fights and instances of mob mentality. And I am telling you that what is happening now is not normal. What is happening now is a direct result of changes in the criminal justice policy of the State.

I will give you one direct example of what I mean. When cannabis was legalized the law established written warnings for minors in possession of it. Yet the law does not require a minor to show ID to an officer to write the warning. So how do we enforce the law when the same law says we can’t enforce it? This is also confirmed by an Attorney General FAQ, updated on March 8, 2021, on the subject that says and I quote “simply refusing to provide identifying information” is not obstruction.

Since that same law says we can’t search a minor, can’t detain a minor and can’t arrest a minor for public use of alcohol or cannabis what exactly are the tools cops are supposed to use to address this situation? Do you think a minor cares about getting a written warning their parents aren’t required to see assuming, that is, they provide us ID to write the warning?

These organized groups of kids are not dumb. They know the law says we can’t do anything to them so they gather, drink, things get wild and then all hell breaks loose. The public deserves to not wait until after things have gotten out of control for the police to be able to make arrests or bring minors down to the station to call their parents.

Finally, we need to take a serious look at bail reform. You can pass any law you want after this but under the current bail reform rules none of them will matter. We hear constantly that bail reform is a success.

Well, if the measurement is releasing even dangerous people back to our communities then I guess you can call it a success. My limited time before you does not allow for me to detail many of the areas bail reform needs to be addressed. But I think there are two things to consider.

First, the Criminal Sentencing Commission needs to have representation from rank-and-file police officers recommended by the State PBA. Our members are the ones dealing with crimes before they ever get to a prosecutor, defender, lawyer or judge. And yet we are excluded from talking about the real-world impact of their recommendations without a seat at the table.

Second, you must seriously consider reviewing the process by which the AOC developed the algorithm that created the Public Safety Assessments used by judges during pretrial detention review. This algorithm was not developed by police, prosecutors or judges but was instead farmed out to the Arnold Foundation, a nonprofit whose anti-cop rhetoric can be found right on their website.

When their approach is centered on comments such as: “police too often rely on punitive enforcement and unnecessary force”; and,

Jails are full because of “law enforcement agencies that arrest more people for minor offenses and over-police communities of color” what do think their system to recommend detention or release is going to say? Justice should be blind. Those positions are hardly impartial and the process needs to change as a result.

I can assure you my members have sworn an oath to protect and serve and will continue to do so to the best of their ability. But we can’t protect the public when the law and policy of the State is designed to keep us from doing it.

As you know well, the State PBA is first and foremost a resource for you and we will gladly engage in meaningful discussions and analysis to support you in your legislative efforts any time.

Thank you for allowing me to make these comments today

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A recent poll shows healthcare costs are voters’ top financial concern. Employer and union health plans like the one I oversee at the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association are on the front lines of this healthcare cost crisis. Collectively, these plans provide coverage for 160 million Americans. Over the last two years, our health plan costs increased by 31% to an average of $43,000 per policyholder. Today, our 30,000 active-duty police officers must pay upwards of $15,000 annually for coverage. Taxpayers pay the rest. Next year, hospital surgery costs are expected to drive our plan costs up another 15%, bringing annual premiums to nearly $50,000." This is the beginning of an Op-Ed written by Kevin Lyons in Fortune magazine as a follow-up to his well-received testimony before the US Congress. To read the entire piece, click here https://fortune.com/2024/03/19/75-unions-employers-endorse-senate-health-care-price-transparency-bill-congress/

Today the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a 5-2 decision denying the NJ State PBA’s request to stay the order of the Appellate Division that upheld Governor Murphy’s vaccination mandate that applies to all State and County Correctional Police Officers. Despite two justices voting in favor of granting our request for a stay, we recognize that the Court has spoken.

The State PBA along with our 11,000 members that are affected by this mandate are disappointed that we were unsuccessful in this challenge. We are currently reviewing this decision with legal counsel to ensure that our members have a firm understanding of the decision and can undertake any individual appellate rights that they may have available to them.

Governor Murphy signed two bills of great importance to the State PBA today prior to the end of his first term in office.  The State PBA had initiated the drafting and quick movement of the bills to address two serious and pressing needs for PBA members across the State.  These bills close out a highly successful legislative session for State PBA initiated bills to protect and enhance the law enforcement profession in New Jersey.

First, in order to address a law and AG policy that prohibited an officer from reviewing their Body Worn Camera (BWC) footage when writing their initial reports, the State PBA proposed Assembly Bill 5864 to correct the policy.  The bill signed by the Governor today expressly permits an officer to review their BWC when writing initial reports except in certain matters relating to the use of a firearm, death, violation of the excessive use of force policy or other similar serious matters.  

The law will ensure accuracy in countless police reports and assist officers to properly record a situation.  The State PBA is grateful to the bill sponsor and State PBA member, Assemblywoman Shanique Speight, for her leadership in pushing the bill and to Governor Murphy for working with the State PBA on it.

Second, in order to address the depletion of public safety spending on officer salary and equipment in Atlantic City since the State takeover of the city, the State PBA worked closely with Senate President Steve Sweeney and the State FMBA on a bill to establish a $2 room fee on every casino hotel guest room that will be set aside in a special fund for use only for officer salary, training, retention and equipment.  

Senate Bill 4311 will raise millions per year that will restore Department funding and officer morale to the Atlantic City Police Department.  The bill will assist in retaining officers in the Department and provide much needed finances to restore officer salary that was cut before and after the State takeover six years ago.  The State PBA is truly grateful to Senator Sweeney for immediately saying yes when asked to sponsor this bill and, along with Speaker Coughlin, for making it a lame duck priority.  We applaud Governor Murphy for working with us to develop additional language to ensure that the money is secured and its spending prioritized to benefit the Officers and the City.

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