New Jersey Communities Forward Initiative

communities_forward.jpgNew Jersey Communities Forward (NJCF) is a cutting-edge initiative spearheaded by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. With a focus on fair and effective policing and economic opportunity for all urban residents, NJCF provides a safe space for honest conversations among community residents, law enforcement officials, policy makers, and business entities. NJCF aims to empower urban communities by using dialogue to achieve sustainable results. At its core, NJCF’S work is building bridges for communication between groups who have not historically spoken to each other or that have spoken often in anger and from ideologically divided camps. These conversations are not themselves an end, but an important gateway towards a more durable set of relationships and community-based solutions to the issues affecting urban communities.

The concept that New Jersey Communities Forward has brought throughout the state is one where groups can engage in a very productive and constructive dialogue. Groups are able to sit at the table, talk to each other, learn from each other, develop relationships, see where they agree and where they don’t agree, which is an incredibly important way to have this kind of conversation.

When we dealt with two of the biggest issues the state has ever confronted in terms of law enforcement and policing, we had everybody sitting at the table with each other, walking in each others shoes and trying to figure out the right answer and how to move forward.

- Former Acting Attorney General John H. Hoffman on NJISJ’S New Jersey Communities Forward Initiative


The Institute’s NJCF initiative seeks to build stronger, safer communities through facilitated community forums and trainings with law enforcement.  By drawing upon lessons learned from effective policing models here in New Jersey and across the country, and creating a safe space for honest and difficult discussions with law enforcement, this initiative encourages a much needed paradigm shift in the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

We believe law enforcement can and must be more than peacekeepers; they can join with communities to serve and be peacemakers. In a significant development, NJCF led Acting Attorney General John Hoffman to require every state trooper (currently numbering more than 1,000) to wear body-worn cameras by the end of 2016.  New Jersey is one of the first states to make such a commitment.  Hoffman also issued directives to police agencies statewide addressing procedures and best practices for conducting use-of-force investigations.

NJCF has hosted community empowerment forums and facilitated conversations with over 1,000 residents across seven cities in New Jersey: Atlantic City, Camden, Trenton, Montclair, New Brunswick, Newark, and Jersey City.  During several of these conversations, residents  expressed their desire for us to focus our efforts on youth engagement activities.

These key first conversations help frame public safety as part of our broader vision of empowering urban communities, and advance our broader reform efforts that include community policing, law enforcement de-escalation in confrontations with civilians, cultural competency training, comprehensive data collection, and increased accountability in response to police misconduct.

10 Things You Can Do To Reform Law Enforcement in New Jersey

View as PDF

New Jersey Communities Forward Mid-Year Review

View as PDF

The Approach



New Jersey Communities Forward operates from the position that progress on the most difficult social issues and conflicts requires building trust and creating space for candid conversation, practical problem solving and, at times, emotional healing.

  • New Jersey Communities Forward is helmed by a coalition of leaders— including community voices, federal and state law enforcement, chiefs of police, lawmakers, civil rights organizations, and business and community leaders. This multi-faceted group develops and implements outreach strategies, identifies local issues, and brainstorms initiatives to bring about lasting change in New Jersey’s urban communities.
  • In furtherance of its goal, New Jersey Communities Forward plans and executes community-based forums in various cities across the state  to discuss existing barriers to safer and economically sustainable urban communities. At these forums, trained local facilitators lead small group discussions, actively listen to concerns and identify priority issues and best practices for solutions with the help of community residents.
  • Local community leaders use input from forums to develop action plans. By providing support and resources, New Jersey Communities Forward helps local leaders implement these action plans into various communities around New Jersey.
  • New Jersey Communities Forward aims to empower urban communities to create change models that will help them achieve sustainable results in partnership with local anchor organizations.

The Results


  • In a historic step that grew from New Jersey Communities Forward’s comprehensive approach, New Jersey’s Acting Attorney General, John Hoffman announced important new directives that will require every state trooper to wear body-worn cameras.
  • The New Jersey chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is offering training to the chiefs of police on fair and effective policing methods.
  • The New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police will also offer training to civil rights leaders from across the state on law enforcement practices.
  • New Jersey Communities Forward introduced a bill that would have expanded Police Training Commission memberships to include representatives  from Northern New Jersey and South Jersey Chapters of National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (A-4850).
  • New Jersey Communities Forward also pushed for two bills that would have required law enforcement agencies in the state to establish minority recruitment and selection programs (A-4849) as well as  require county and municipal police departments to establish a cultural diversity training course and plan (A-4343).

The Team

  • Ryan Haygood - New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
  • Jerry Harris  - New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
  • James Johnson - Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
  • Lanisha D. Makle - Department of Community Development, City of Patterson  
  • Wanda H. Moore - Office of the New Jersey Attorney General
  • Cuqui Rivera - Puerto Rican Action Board
  • Lori Scott-Pickens - Rutgers University - Newark, School of Criminal Justice
  • Mitchell C. Sklar - New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Jiles H. Ship - Homeland Global Strategies
  • Richard T. Smith - NAACP New Jersey State Conference
  • Retha Onitiri - New Jersey Institute for Social Justice


Follow the conversation on New Jersey Communities Forward’s  Facebook Page.