NJ attorney general issues guidance to law enforcement agencies in wake of coronavirus pandemic and new state regulations

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued guidance to law enforcement agencies across New Jersey Monday afternoon on steps to take to fulfill their duties to protect the public as effectively and safely as possible in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Grewal spoke by phone to the state’s police chiefs and other chief law enforcement executives to brief them regarding the guidance, as well as measures being taken by the governor and the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety to address the rapidly evolving situation. 

“Faced with this unprecedented health crisis, our work as members of law enforcement is more important than ever,” Grewal said. “Our law enforcement leaders and officers are among the best in the nation, and I know that, working together, we will rise to this challenge.  The guidance we are offering today represents commonsense measures, supported by health experts, to keep our officers safe while meeting our duty to protect our communities.”  

A letter from Grewal distributed Monday to all county prosecutors and law enforcement chief executives addresses issues including keeping officers safe, staffing challenges, the timing of charging people for crimes, and the enforcement of state policies and regulations related to the coronavirus.

Members of law enforcement are supposed to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control that include social distancing measures. The Department of Law and Public Safety may no longer hold in-person meetings and instead must use teleconference and videoconference capabilities whenever possible. Work-related travel and external meetings also have been suspended. New Jersey State Police officers are also observing the CDC guidelines while communicating with civilians. For anyone who walks into the lobby at a State Police station, there is a glass partition between the visitor and the trooper to act as a barrier. To help keep conditions sanitary, every station is being cleaned twice a day. Local police departments are being urged to replicate these practices. 

Law enforcement agencies facing staffing shortages due to officers contracting COVID-19 or becoming subject to quarantines have been advised to exercise options that include expanding the use of special law enforcement officers, and relying on mutual aid agreements with their counties and neighboring municipalities. 

Law enforcement officers and prosecutors have been asked to consider delaying the filing of criminal charges in cases that do not imminently impact public safety. They have also been urged to consider the issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic when deciding whether to seek pre-trial detention. Public safety and victim safety must remain the priority in any such decision, Grewal said. 

All law enforcement leaders have been provided with information about the rules contained in the governor’s executive order that was issued Monday. The order closes certain kinds of entertainment businesses, limits business hours for non-essential businesses, limits restaurants and bars to offering only take-out and delivery, and forbids gatherings of more than 50 people. County prosecutors and the Division of Criminal Justice must have assistant prosecutors and a deputy attorney general on call around the clock to assist law enforcement officers in making charging decisions for any violations of the executive order. The attorney general’s guidance relates only to violations of the governor’s executive order, and does not extend to the violations of COVID-related county or local orders. 

The executive order makes it clear that certain businesses are essential, including grocery and food stores, pharmacies, medical supply stores, gas stations, and healthcare facilities. Grewal has instructed officers to not enforce local ordinances that limit the hours during which those companies may receive deliveries. Officers have also been instructed not to enforce any other local ordinances such as noise ordinances in ways that would inhibit transportation companies from the timely and effective delivery of food, medicine, and medical supplies to essential businesses.

Grewal also announced Monday that multiple divisions within Department of Law and Public Safety are extending deadlines for renewing or resubmitting certain licenses. Some agencies within the department that frequently conduct in-person business with members of the public are temporarily closing walk-in offices and expanding the services that they provide remotely.

The Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control is extending any minor employment permits set to expire in March by 30 days. All ABC business will be conducted online or by telephone. If a personal appearance at the ABC is required, those appearances will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and by appointment only.

The Division on Civil Rights is accepting all complaints by telephone or mail only. To file an employment complaint in the Mercer County region, call the Trenton office at 609-292-4605. To file a housing complaint, call the Statewide Housing Hotline at 1-866-405-3050. 

All visitation to juvenile facilities in the state has been suspended for 30 days, effective March 15, to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Victims of Crime Compensation Office staff members will be unable to meet in person. People who are seeking to file a new application may submit an application online by visiting the office’s website or by calling (973) 648-2107.

The Division of Consumer Affairs houses 51 professional licensure boards that collectively oversee about 720,000 active licensed professionals. The licenses issued by those boards have staggered renewal dates. Many icenses issued by the professional boards that require renewals or resubmission in the coming weeks are being extended by 30, 60, or 90 days. For more information about license renewals for specific licenses, visit the Division of Consumer Affairs website here.

The Legalized Games of Chance Control Commission is encouraging all registered nonprofit organizations that have scheduled bingo or raffle events to postpone or cancel those events. A nonprofit organization preparing and filing an amended license application for a postponed raffle or bingo event will not be required to enter the new date for the event. When the rescheduled date is determined, the municipality must be notified. There is no filing fee for the license amendment. A nonprofit organization that cancels a bingo or raffle event will receive a credit for the license fee. Late fees will be waved for any nonprofit organization that files a late renewal registration.

The New Jersey Racing Commission has extended all horse racing licenses for 30 days. The State Athletic Control Board is also extending all mixed martial arts, boxing, and kickboxing licenses for 30 days.

The Attorney General’s Citizens Services Unit will be available to receive telephone calls, but email is preferred.  Forward all correspondence via email to citizens.services@njoag.gov.