The Force Report: Learning to Protect and Serve Together

The Force Report — a five-year statistical analysis by NJ Advance Media of New Jersey police departments use of physical force in encounters with citizens — was a wake-up call for South Orange. It exposed the rift between our town’s officers and people of color and forced all residents to recognize the fundamental disconnect between our words and our actions. The Think Work Thrive Together team believes this report offers us a reset moment. We have an opportunity to build a bridge to a new reality where people of color and police officers trust and believe in one another.

In South Orange, we’re proud to be diverse and politically progressive, so the report is a blow to our town’s sense of who we are. Striking numbers jump out: 21 of the 22 teenagers who were subjected to use of force by police were black teenagers, which included several 14-year-old subjects. Going by the report’s data, a black person being arrested in South Orange is 88% more likely to be the subject of force than a white person being arrested in South Orange. We know this number seems unfathomable, but the math is simple: based on population, a black person is 844% more likely to be the subject of force being applied by a South Orange police officer than a white person.

These numbers do not tell the entire story, and our Police Chief Kyle Kroll has rightly pointed out that these statistics alone cannot provide full context. We want to work with the Chief to create the comprehensive reporting that provides that context. And if you agree that a big part of South Orange’s brand is diversity, you don’t need a consultant to tell you we’ve drifted way off brand. We believe that together with the committed professionals in our police department we can live up to our billing as a community where everyone, without exception, is welcome.

When it comes to Public Safety and Policing, our team believes that:

  • South Orange should be the model in the state and the country in addressing these issues head on and creating a diverse and progressive solution.

  • Through our newly established independent-review committee, South Orange residents and police officials can work together to resolve issues and build trust.

  • We need comprehensive regular reports covering all police interaction with the public to help avoid surprises like those in The Force Report and to catch and address problems early.

  • The committee’s reporting practices should include random video reviews of traffic stops, so residents and police can work together toward establishing best practices.  

  • We need programs to connect and align the mission of our police — to protect and serve — with the role of every parent in town to protect and serve their children.

  • We can leverage sports and recreation to bring residents and officers together along the lines of the NYPD’s Police Athletic Leagues, with teens and cops teaming up.

As Board of Trustee members, we will foster and facilitate communication between our police and our residents. Together we’ll build a foundation of trust and honesty, one in which everyone protects and serves one another. These are ideals our community is primed to live up to as we Think Work and Thrive TOGETHER!