ACLU-NJ Report Reveals Troubling Use of Stop-and-Frisk in Newark

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
February 25, 2014 12:00 am

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Analysis Reveals Black Newarkers Stopped Disproportionately and Bulk of Stops Involve Innocent People

February 25, 2014

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NEWARK – Newark Police officers use stop-and-frisk with troubling frequency and in a manner that leads to racial disparities, according to a report released today (4mb PDF) by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ). The report analyzes the first six months of data from the Newark Police Department, which releases the information on its website monthly in compliance with its new Transparency Policy. It is the first public analysis of the data.

“The police department’s data reveal disturbing patterns about the use of stop-and-frisk in Newark,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “Newark police make a high number of stops, disproportionately stop black Newarkers, and stop innocent people in the vast majority of cases. These findings raise significant constitutional red flags for the City of Newark.”

Although the ACLU-NJ acknowledges that six months of data may be insufficient to draw definitive conclusions about the Newark Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices, the organization believes the initial concerns raised by these data warrant corrective actions by the City of Newark now.

From July to December 2013, officers made 91 stops per 1,000 Newark residents—nearly one person stopped for every ten residents—exceeding the rate in New York City of eight stops per 1,000 residents over the same period in 2013. In all of 2013, the New York Police Department made 24 stops per 1,000 residents, still significantly lower than Newark’s rate. The ACLU-NJ chose to compare Newark’s stop-and-frisk practices with New York City’s because of its close proximity and because New York City’s practices have been the subject of much national attention and criticism. Although it is required under Newark’s Transparency Policy, it is unclear whether the first six months of reported data include stops of motor vehicles. New York City’s data does not appear to include motor vehicle stops.

In addition to the troublingly high frequency of stops, officers stop black Newarkers at disproportionate rates. Black Newarkers make up 52 percent of the population, but they represented 75 percent of all stops in the first six months of data. Newark Police did not report how many Latino residents were stopped last year, but at the urging of the ACLU-NJ, it began including that data in its January 2014 report.

The analysis also finds that of those stopped in Newark, 75 percent were innocent and walked away without receiving a summons or being arrested. The police did not disclose the nature of the arrests or summonses, nor did it disaggregate the two in its data reports. The ACLU-NJ recommends in its report that police provide this information in order to offer a more comprehensive picture of stop-and-frisk activity.

“The U.S. Supreme Court made clear decades ago that under our Constitution, police are permitted to stop people only if they have individualized and reasonable suspicion of a crime,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “When 75 percent of those stopped in Newark are innocent of any wrongdoing, it raises significant questions about what criteria officers are using when deciding to make a stop.”

The ACLU-NJ commends former Police Director Samuel DeMaio and former Mayor Cory Booker for making the police department more transparent and accountable to the public by releasing stop-and-frisk data to the public. The police department adopted the groundbreaking Transparency Policy in July 2013.

“Once fully implemented, the Newark Police Department’s transparency data policy will be a model for other law enforcement agencies in New Jersey and across the country,” said Rosmarin. “We look forward to continuing to work with the department and Acting Director Sheila Coley to ensure Newarkers have access to the comprehensive data and to address the concerns raised in our report.”

The ACLU-NJ is asking the Newark Police to release more information on stop-and-frisks, including the reasons for the stops, and whether those being stopped have limited English proficiency(in order to understand the impact of stop-and-frisk on immigrant communities), in accordance with the Transparency Policy. In addition, the ACLU-NJ also makes the following recommendations for the City of Newark:

  • Review stop-and-frisk practices, and pay particular attention to the high volume, racial disparities and innocence rate of stops.
  • Ensure that an appointed federal monitor investigates stop-and-frisk practices.
  • Establish independent mechanisms, like a strong civilian complaint review board and inspector general to monitor police practices.
  • Require officers to issue “receipts” to individuals following stops to document the interaction, build trust and enhance accountability.

“Our report’s findings about stop-and-frisk practices in Newark make a powerful case for robust and independent oversight of the Newark Police Department,” said Ofer. “A strong civilian complaint review board or inspector general’s office could provide long-lasting accountability and help usher in critical reforms to the department.”

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned the use of stop-and-frisk in the case of Terry v. Ohio, but not without placing strict limitations on how and when police can use the tactic. Police officers may stop a person only when they have individualized and reasonable suspicion of a crime. They may pat down the outer layers of the person’s clothing following a lawful stop only when they reasonably suspect that the person is armed and poses a danger to the officer’s safety. In the decades since, stop-and-frisk has mutated in some large cities, particularly in low income communities of color, into a commonplace tactic that has been humiliating and unconstitutional.

The report was written by Udi Ofer and Ari Rosmarin. Data analysis was conducted by Sara LaPlante. The report was edited by Katie Wang, ACLU-NJ Communications Director, and Alexander Shalom, ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney.

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