February 9, 2014

Star-Ledger reports Department of Justice responds to ACLU-NJ petition by ordering federal monitor to preside over Newark Police

February 9, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) welcomes news reports that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will place the Newark Police Department (NPD) under federal oversight in order to safeguard against future civil rights and civil liberties abuses by law enforcement. The ACLU-NJ was the first to ask for a federal monitor in September 2010 after submitting a petition to the DOJ detailing more than 400 incidents of abuse and misconduct by the Newark Police Department.

The DOJ opened an investigation in May 2011.

"The Justice Department’s decision affirms the findings of our petition that the problems in the Newark Police Department have been so widespread and grave that they warrant outside, federal intervention and oversight to help turn the department around," said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. "But a federal monitor is just the first step, and not the last, towards bringing a permanently accountable police department to the people of Newark."

In addition to the monitor, the ACLU-NJ is calling for the NPD to implement additional reforms such as a strong and independent civilian review board and inspector general to create permanent changes after the monitor’s period ends.

"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," said Ofer.

A civilian complaint review board will investigate complaints of misconduct against the Newark Police Department, and to be effective must have independent subpoena authority and the ability to discipline police officers who are found to engage in misconduct, as well as adequate funding and a fair and transparent process. An inspector general will have the authority to audit the police department and make recommendations for policies and practices. 

The ACLU-NJ first called for federal intervention of the Newark Police Department in 1967, after rampant reports of police misconduct and abuse by the police during and after that summer’s clashes between residents and the police. In September 2010, the ACLU-NJ submitted a petition to the DOJ that documented 418 instances of police misconduct, including false arrests, excessive force, unlawful stops and searches, discrimination and retaliation, as well as a broken internal affairs system.  The petition was based on a 2.5 year study that ended in 2010. In May 2011, the DOJ announced it would open an investigation into the reports of civil rights and civil liberties violations in the department.

"We thank Deborah Jacobs, the former executive director of the ACLU-NJ, for her persistence in making a strong, unequivocal case for the need for federal intervention," said Ofer.

The DOJ has intervened in several other cities’ police departments since the ACLU-NJ filed its petition, including Seattle and New Orleans, where it issued consent decrees aimed at creating long-lasting changes in policing culture. The New Jersey State Police signed a consent decree in 1999 agreeing to changes designed to end racial profiling.

"This is a chance to change the future, and it’s imperative that the DOJ incorporate lessons learned from past consent decrees," said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. "Whether a police department transforms itself or regresses into old habits depends on the commitment of its monitors to turning it around permanently."

The ACLU-NJ will continue to act as a resource for the Newark Police, offering insights on how to uphold civil liberties and civil rights while also protecting public safety. In 2012, under the leadership of Police Director Samuel DeMaio, the Newark Police Department worked with the ACLU-NJ to craft policies to protect the rights of members of the public to record police officers on duty. The policy, which mandates officer training concerning the public’s First Amendment rights, came as a result of the ACLU-NJ’s representation of Khaliah Fitchette, a Newark teenager pulled off a city bus and detained by police for using her cellphone to record video of officers responding to an incident.

In addition, in July, the Newark Police Department, in collaboration with the ACLU-NJ, adopted a data transparency policy requiring the department to release monthly data detailing the number of stop-and-frisks it conducts and the demographic information of the person being stopped, as well as information on the disposition of the stop. The policy also requires the department to report on the number of internal affairs complaints it receives and its use of force reports.  Also in July, the ACLU-NJ and other immigrants’ rights advocates worked with the Newark Police Department to stop honoring voluntary immigration detainer requests, thus ensuring that immigrant communities in Newark may contact the police without fearing deportation.

A copy of the ACLU-NJ’s petition and more information about the ACLU-NJ’s work to improve police practices can be found at
www.aclu-nj.org/policepractices.

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