State Police Boosted Academy Diversity by Ignoring Background Checks, Suit Says

Anna Merriman and S.P. Sullivan, NJ, February 29, 2016

A veteran state trooper alleges in a whistleblower lawsuit she was retaliated against by her superiors after raising objections that police academy background checks were compromised because of pressure to increase racial diversity among State Police ranks.

Acting Sgt. Jaclyn Jiras, who spent five months working as a background investigator at a time the division was being scrutinized for its lack of black cadets, claims she was reassigned and denied a promotion when she flagged applicants with troubled legal histories and criminal backgrounds.

Court records and administrative documents obtained by NJ Advance Media also show Jiras and another trooper, acting Sgt. Christopher Griffin, were disciplined for allegedly leaking information from confidential background investigations to a retired trooper who ran a Facebook group for State Police members.

Jiras claims in her suit that her superiors, under pressure from the state Attorney General’s Office to boost recruit class diversity on short notice, approved candidates who had been automatically disqualified for having suspended licenses, criminal affiliations and active warrants.

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Jiras was responsible for conducting background checks for the division’s 152nd and 153rd academy classes in 2012 and 2013, according to the lawsuit, filed Feb. 10 in Superior Court in Mercer County.

Both classes were touted in succession as the most diverse in State Police history. But they came only after the New Jersey chapter of the NAACP threatened legal action because the division had accepted a class with just five black troopers in 2011.

The 2011 drop in black recruits was seen as particularly troubling for the State Police, which historically struggled to grow its ranks of racial minority and female troopers but was publicly increasing its outreach efforts. The division also had spent a decade under federal monitoring for racial profiling and entered into a settlement with the NAACP in 2000 that mandated improved minority recruiting.

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The suit claims Jiras and a colleague flagged a number of individuals who failed background checks based on 24 “automatic disqualifiers” set forth by the state attorney general.

One candidate had been found guilty of tax evasion and had a suspended driver’s license, another had an active criminal warrant and a third candidate’s Facebook account showed ties to the Bloods street gang as well as posts from the applicant “making race-based comments,” the suit alleges.

Jiras claims she and her coworkers later learned several of those disqualified applicants had been “forced into the process” anyway amid pressure from Gov. Chris Christie’s administration.

“Because the Academy was to start shortly and the Attorney General’s Office determined it wanted additional ‘diversity,’ twenty minority candidates who had been automatically disqualified and were no longer part of the process were removed from the disqualification list and put back into the process,” the complaint states.

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