MORRIS COUNTY — Police shoot less when they have the right training. That’s why Assemblymen Brian Bergen and Gordon Johnson introduced bipartisan legislation Thursday to dramatically improve police training in New Jersey.
“Police officers only reach for their weapon as a last resort. Without proper self-defense training, it becomes the last resort faster than it needs to,” said Bergen (R-Morris), who served eight years in combat after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point. “I am keenly aware as a former soldier that in most difficult situations we fall to our highest level of training. Right now there are no training requirements beyond the academy for self-defense in an officer’s 25-year career and that is a scary thought.”
Assemblyman Gordon Johnson is a former law-enforcement officer and veteran who understands firsthand the training needs of police officers.
“The training we provide our police officers needs to encompass the full breadth of functions that are necessary for effective policing our communities,” said Gordon (D-Bergen). “A key component of this is self-defense. It has been overlooked, and we have paid the price on many occasions. It is time to fix this once and for all for the safety of our communities and for the police themselves.”
Police officers have had minimal self-defense training during the police academy and no self-defense requirements for the remainder of their professional careers.
The bill introduced Thursday increases self-defense training at the police academy to 148 hours from 40 hours and implements annual in-service training requirements of 104 hours per year for the remainder of an officer’s career. (Click here to download bill)
The idea came from Detective Paul Marinaccio, a training coordinator with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office. Under the leadership of acting Prosecutor Lyndsay Ruotolo, The Union County Prosecutor’s office has created an environment that prioritizes training and pioneered efforts to look at police training differently.
“In order to effectively de-escalate a situation, an officer must be confident in their ability to defend themselves and survive,” explained Marinaccio. “A lack of ability will produce a lack of self-confidence, which leads to fear during a tumultuous encounter and likely to unnecessary escalation of force.”
Marinaccio is a 19-year veteran of law enforcement and serves as an instructor in force de-escalation, defensive tactics, firearms, and physical training. He is also a black belt in American freestyle mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
“The investment in training will pay itself back exponentially in the improvement of our ability to be both safe and effective in the most challenging of situations,”
Johnson has 24 years of experience with the Englewood Police Department, including time as the first African-American sheriff in Bergen County. He agrees self-defense training will go a long way to improve community relations and decrease incidents of excessive force.
“I am proud of this bi-partisan effort to actively improve the training of our law enforcement professionals across the state,” concluded Johnson. “We must continue to evolve our training to meet the needs of our citizens and this is the first step in the right direction.”