Thin Blue Line, Thick Wallet: New Jersey's $87 Million in Police Misconduct Settlements
Written by: Sam Orlando
In an extensive investigation unveiled last week, NJ Advance Media has revealed that New Jersey taxpayers have shouldered a burden of at least $87.8 million since 2019 to resolve claims of misconduct by local police departments. This hidden cost emerges when police face allegations ranging from excessive force, sexual harassment, and discrimination, to wrongful death cases linked to police actions.
Among the horrifying incidents that led to these payments is the case of Marlene Mazur, a 56-year-old financial advisor from Colts Neck. In 2016, Mazur, who had no prior encounters with law enforcement, suffered a broken eye socket when a Marlboro police officer allegedly punched her in the face during a visit to her home, following a dispute with her husband. Despite Marlboro admitting no wrongdoing, the township agreed to pay Mazur $500,000 in a settlement.
Data obtained from public records requests to 484 police departments in New Jersey highlights the wide-ranging claims and the departments involved - from the 3,100-member New Jersey State Police with $1.2 million in settlement costs to the four-officer Woodlynne Police Department in Camden County, with a single $30,000 settlement.
Marlboro, the site of the assault against Mazur, saw an additional lawsuit filed by the involved officer herself. Officer Donna Gonzalez, who was promoted to sergeant this year, sued the township for a hostile work environment, including alleged sexist and racist comments from superiors. Marlboro settled with Gonzalez for $1.5 million while denying any wrongdoing.
The uncovered payments, often veiled in secrecy, serve as a stark account of the fiscal impact of law enforcement settlements on state resources, particularly at a time when calls for increased police accountability are growing louder. Of the total amount settled, $33.1 million (more than 35%) was related to employment-related settlements, where officers alleged punishments for whistleblowing, wrongful omission from promotions, or faced homophobic, racial, or sexual discrimination.
This comprehensive review underscores the extensive range of misconduct claims leveled against New Jersey's law enforcement departments and the considerable public funds spent in addressing the repercussions. With increasing demands for transparency and justice in policing, this investigation is a significant step in highlighting the costs, both financial and human, of police misconduct.