Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Gordon Johnson, Grace Spencer and Jamel Holley aimed at making law enforcement agencies in New Jersey more representative of the communities they serve was advanced by an Assembly panel on Monday.

The bill (A-1887) would require each state, county and local law enforcement agency in New Jersey to establish a minority recruitment and selection program. The programs would ensure that the agencies reflect the diversity of the populations they serve.

“When the makeup of the law enforcement population mirrors that of the general population in a community, people are more likely to have a sense that they can relate to and trust the police,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “Diversity is important in all workplace environments, but it’s particularly significant when it comes to a profession that requires regular interaction with the community.”

As per the legislation, the programs would: set goals for recruiting and hiring minorities and women within a specified time frame, describe methods for evaluating whether these goals have been met and establish corrective action to be taken if goals are unmet.

“Effective policing requires the public’s trust in the law enforcement officers who protect them, and a big part of that lies in the general population feeling understood by the police,” said Johnson (D-Bergen), who formerly served as Bergen County sheriff. “Increasing minority and female representation in law enforcement agencies can help achieve that end. Furthermore, the reporting requirements included in this bill will increase transparency in hiring practices among departments.”

“A key element of an effective police force in a community is an ability to relate to the people in that community, whether that means being sensitive to their cultural backgrounds or being able to communicate in a language they understand,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “This measure is aimed at improving the relationship between the police and communities throughout our state.”

“In addition to making sure that police officers are properly trained and equipped to serve and protect the people, it’s important that we take action to ensure that the makeup of a department mirrors the community,” said Holley (D-Union). “With more members from different backgrounds, our police forces will have a greater variety of perspectives, which ultimately will make them more approachable to the public and improve overall public safety.”

Under the bill, county prosecutors would monitor programs established by county and municipal agencies, and the state attorney general would monitor programs established by the state police and other state law enforcement agencies. The attorney general would report annually to the governor and the legislature regarding the programs and also publish a summary of the report online.

The bill also would set annual reporting requirements concerning the overall diversity of law enforcement agencies. Each state, county and municipal agency would be required to report on the age, gender, race and ethnicity of: officers currently appointed to the law enforcement agency, officers promoted within the agency in the previous year, applicants appointed to the agency in the previous year and all applicants for a position with the agency in the previous year. Agencies also would be required to report the reasons for denying applicants an appointment.

The bill was advanced by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.