NEWARK, NJ – Elected officials, advocates and the leader of Newark’s largest police union all said Sunday they welcome the federal government’s decision to place a monitor over New Jersey’s largest police department.
News of the decision was first reported in The Sunday Star-Ledger. Citing multiple sources close to the decision, the newspaper reported that a years-long investigation into allegations of misconduct and abuse by Newark Police had resulted in the decision to appoint a federal watchdog.
West Ward Councilman Ronald Rice Jr., who had been calling for an outside agency to reform the city police department years before the federal government began it’s 2011 probe, said he hopes officers embrace any and all proposed reforms.
“I feel vindicated. I feel that is good for the Newark Police Department. This is not a witch hunt, this is not to beat up the police department,” he said. “This is to make it better.”
The Justice Department investigation began less than a year after the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union published a scathing 96-page petition that claimed the department could not police itself. Citing dozens of lawsuits and years of internal affairs statistics, the ACLU said the department routinely failed to address accusations of brutality and misconduct against its officers.
In 2008 and 2009, the department received 261 allegations that its officers used excessive force, arrested someone under false pretenses, conducted illegal searches and treated residents differently based on race or gender, according to the petition. Only one of those complaints resulted in disciplinary action against an officer.
James Stewart Jr., president of Newark’s Fraternal Order of Police, said he is “looking forward” to the monitor’s input. He said he hopes the reforms go beyond the scope of the ACLU’s allegations, adding that the department’s emphasis on using arrests as a metric for officer success have seriously harmed the agency’s rapport with the community.
“That mentality, the pressure to bring in numbers, leads our cops to frequently stop people for record checks, which often leads to arrests for open bench warrants. That is also what contributes to that divide that our community activists so often talk about,” Stewart Jr. said in a statement. “They become afraid to approach the cop on the street out of fear of being arrested.”
Udi Ofer, executive director of the state chapter of the ACLU, said any reforms must include the creation of a Civilian Complaint Review Board with the power to file subpoenas against officers. Former Mayor Cory Booker said such a board would be created earlier this year, but no action has been taken yet.
“In order to ensure that oversight of the Newark Police Department outlasts any one administration or any one federal monitor, any reforms must also include the creation of a strong and independent civilian complaint review board and an inspector general’s office,” Ofer said in a statement.
Some city leaders was less optimistic. South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, one of four candidates in the May 2014 mayoral election, said he believes the department should be given a chance to reform itself before the monitor is appointed. Baraka said loss of local control has hurt other city agencies, like the Newark school system, which has remained under state control for several years.
“I understand that the police department needs some kind of overhaul, it needs some kind of cultural change,” he said. “But I don’t know if I totally agree that we should have a federal monitor.”
Shavar Jeffries, another mayoral candidate and former assistant attorney general, said the need for a monitor highlights not only flaws in the police department, but shortcomings in city leadership as well.
“It really shows that we’ve had inadequate oversight at the local level,” he said. “Between the mayor and the city council they should provide the oversight that allows our officers to be effective, and in doing so, not trample over our residents civil liberties.”
From The Star-Ledger