New Jersey police departments would like to make hiring decisions that reflect, as accurately as possible, the diversity of the communities they serve, but chiefs across the state say some rules set forth by the Civil Services Commission are providing hurdles to that goal.

Namely, the "rule of three" which, as defined on the CSC website, "allows an appointing authority to choose from one of the top three eligible from an open competitive or promotional list."

The goal is to put all candidates on as even a playing field as possible.

But Sayreville Police Chief John Zebrowski, who is also first vice president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, said the standardized Law Enforcement Exam that helps to set these candidates apart may in fact be a hindrance in some smaller municipalities where fewer prospective hires are either available, or interested in police work.

He said when many of the CSC safeguards were put in place, they were well-intentioned, at a time when police unions were not as strong as they are now.

"Civil Service has to become a little bit more flexible and a little bit more modern in the way in which they put together their testing and their standards," Zebrowski said. "We in law enforcement want to be a little bit more sophisticated in our recruitment process so that we can do that hiring, but we're impeded because the rules haven't really been advanced over years."

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As departments across the United States continue to try and rebuild public trust following a spring and summer full of protests over the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police, Zebrowski said it has become increasingly difficult to find qualified candidates who even want to progress to the standardized exam.

He said that should be one component of determining someone's fitness to join the force but it shouldn't necessarily be given priority.

"I think we're concerned that those who may originally have been interested in serving as law enforcement officers actually may be turned off," Zebrowski said.

New Jersey police departments will keep intensifying their recruitment efforts within their towns, Zebrowski said, but he hopes the state will hold up its end of improving police relations and efficiency by taking a look at some of these outmoded measures.

"It really takes collaboration by a lot of entities to get that done, and we're seeking that collaboration as much as possible so that we can attain that goal," he said.

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