March 3, 2016

Mayor and Council Issue Statement on Imani Perry Incident

In light of the decision by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s office to close their independent review of the traffic stop and arrest of Princeton University Professor Imani Perry, finding that the arresting officers were “to be commended, not criticized,” Mayor Liz Lempert and five members of Princeton Council have issued a statement praising the “professional, compassionate conduct” of the town’s police officers.

Ms. Perry was stopped February 6 for speeding on Princeton Pike. The police officer running her license discovered it was suspended in Pennsylvania. She could not provide her car registration, and she had an outstanding warrant for failure to pay two parking tickets in Princeton. Following policy, the officer arrested her. She was handcuffed and taken to headquarters. On social media, Ms. Perry accused the officers involved in her arrest of inappropriate and racially motivated behavior.

After reviewing a dash-cam video of the incident, and taking into consideration Ms. Perry’s cancellation of an appointment with the prosecutor and the fact that she never followed up to reschedule, the office announced on Thursday that the case was closed.

The statement by the governing body, signed by all of the Council members except Patrick Simon, not only praises the police but advocates for a change in the warrant system in New Jersey so that unpaid parking tickets are not subject to arrest.

“This incident has been painful to all involved,” the statement reads. “Accusations of misconduct against our officers were published widely in the national media, followed by a rush to condemn. The dash camera video and audio recording of the incident proved essential to clearing their names. As part of our commitment to transparency, the municipality hopes to purchase body cameras for all of our officers and integrate that technology with our existing dash cameras. We are working to identify funding, especially for the expensive storage technology required, and to develop a policy to address privacy concerns.

Our officers acted appropriately. Still, we believe the incident raised legitimate questions about the New Jersey court system’s use of warrants. We hope the state will reexamine the options it gives to municipal courts to enforce financial penalties and parking violations, and we plan to be part of those conversations with our elected state representatives.

We hope that this incident ultimately helps bring attention to some of the great work our police have undertaken in recent years to strengthen relationships, including diversified recruitment and hiring, adoption of a strategic plan which relied heavily on community consultation, and the creation of a Safe Neighborhoods Bureau which focuses extensively on community policing.

Since 2013, the Chief has been posting a comprehensive monthly report of police activity on the municipal website that includes statistics of motor vehicle stops by race and gender. We believe Princeton may be the only community of its size in the state of New Jersey to publish this information voluntarily. Furthermore, as part of the 2014 accreditation of the department, the Chief has standardized procedures, reducing discretion available to individual officers. Academic research demonstrates that minimizing discretion also minimizes disparate treatment by race. Each warrant arrest is subject to the same security protocols, including a weapons search and handcuffing, regardless of the person’s race, gender, or job title.

We are all members of the same community–one based on shared values of fairness and respect. The police and the governing body of Princeton have been, and continue to be, committed to providing fair policing to our residents and visitors. We are proud to have a department that is constantly striving to improve the way it serves and protects all members of our community.”