TRENTON, N.J. – A Republican amendment protecting police against criminal charges for investigating underage drinking was adopted in the Assembly Appropriations Committee Thursday when members considered a bill drafted in response to teen pop-up parties at the Jersey Shore. Democrats agreed to use the language in Assemblywomen Kim Eulner and Marilyn Piperno’s bill after push back from law enforcement and Republicans.
Police unions testified in the Assembly Judiciary Committee last week that the Democrat bill (A5160) undermined their ability to stop mobs of drunk teens from hurting themselves or tourism because it contained a provision that threatens officers with a deprivation of civil rights charge.
“This amendment is a win for all New Jersey shore towns, family-friendly tourism and our men and women in blue tasked with keeping the peace in our treasured communities and renowned vacation destinations,” Eulner (R-Monmouth) said. “Proactively removing the language that handcuffs cops from enforcing penalties for underage drinking will put some teeth into the law and help everyone have a safer and more enjoyable summer.”
Currently, law enforcement officers are criminally liable when investigating underage alcohol consumption or possession regardless of whether they purposefully acted with the intent to intimidate or discriminate. Eulner and Piperno’s amendment (A4242) requires that an officer knowingly intimidated and discriminated against a minor suspected to be under the influence of alcohol before the officer could be charged with a civil rights violation.
“Law enforcement officers need the Legislature’s support to do their jobs. They are out there saving New Jersey’s children from dangerous situations like pop-up parties. Their intent is to protect the public, kids and small businesses, not to deprive people of their civil rights. Assuming police should be charged for something before it even occurs is a dangerous precedent,” Piperno (R-Monmouth) said. “Our amendment empowers law enforcement while still addressing the actual crime of civil rights deprivation when it occurs.”
The bill advanced unanimously. It will be considered by the Speaker for a full floor vote.