Gurbir Grewal officially became the country’s first Sikh-American attorney general when he was sworn in Tuesday, hours after the inauguration of Gov. Phil Murphy.
Grewal, the first of Murphy’s cabinet nominees to be put up for a vote by the state Senate, was approved unanimously, 29-0.
Grewal, who previously served as the Bergen County prosecutor, will have a lot on his plate.
In addition to overseeing the state’s consumer protection and environmental laws, he’ll be at the forefront of the opioid epidemic. His office also will represent the state any legal disputes, including those that may pit the state against policies of President Donald Trump’s administration.
And all of this will come at a time when improving the relationship between police and law enforcement with the public is a top concern.
Grewal, in an interview with ROI-NJ shortly after his nomination, said he looked forward to the challenges of the office.
“Coming from the U.S. Attorney’s Office to the county two years ago, my background had been in white collar and cybercrime,” he said. “But the No. 1 problem I faced when I came here, which is unfortunately facing prosecutors across the country, is the opioid and heroin epidemic.
“I’m proud of the way, in the last two years, in a county that is so big and so diverse, with 70-plus police departments, that we changed the way we are addressing this. It is a disease, and not a law enforcement issue alone, and we have worked to get people into treatment and out of jail cells. I am proud of the compassion we have brought to the issue and not locking people up just because they are addicts.”
Grewal feels being a Sikh-American enabled him to bring a different perspective to his job as Bergen County prosecutor and that he will be able to take lessons learned to the attorney general role.
“I am proud of how we have built bridges across diverse communities in the county, by holding clergy academies and bringing law enforcement together with community stakeholders and providing greater transparency of our processes,” he said.
“For example, how we investigate officer-involved shootings. We’ve had countless forums on that, because I didn’t want to have a situation in Bergen County that we have seen play out in the news in other parts of the United States after an officer-involved shooting. I wanted people to have trust in the law enforcement in the county before an event like that.
“I’m also proud of how we addressed bias in law enforcement through implicit bias training of law enforcement and at the prosecutor’s office.”
Grewal acknowledge being the first Sikh-American will bring a different type of scrutiny to his work as he has to balance the attention on that identity with his work.
“It certainly is an added pressure, because my successes are magnified, as are my failures,” he said. “But I don’t want it to detract from the fact that I’ve been a career prosecutor (and) that I’ve done this at different levels (including federal).
“I don’t want it to overshadow the fact that I have the skill set necessary to lead the attorney general’s office and I’m not just the diversity candidate. I would like to think that it was the skill set that I developed over the last 12 years as a prosecutor, combined with the added factor of the diversity. I don’t want to be viewed as just the diversity candidate.”
For the latest on Murphy’s cabinet selections, click here.