By Michael Hill
The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division says the Newark Police Department needs a major overhaul.
“We also found an organization that is challenged in fundamental ways and has engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing in a broad range of areas,” said U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman.
The Justice Department found nearly 75 percent of the time, the stop-and-frisk program broke the law.
“To stop someone on the street an officer needs to have what we call reasonable suspicion that the person is engaged in criminal activity. But the reasons that the police gave for those stops were not enough to meet that standard,” Fishman said. “Eighty-five percent of people stopped by the police in Newark are black in a city where the black population is 54 percent. So it stands to reason if police are stopping people in Newark for impermissible or insufficient reasons the people who are most likely to have that happen to them are black. Some of the people who have been stopped and arrested were lawfully objecting to police action or simply behaving in a way that an officer perceived as disrespectful. That’s a violation of those individuals’ rights under fourth and first amendments.”
The Justice Department also found fault with Newark when it comes to excessive force over a six-year period.
“The Newark Police Department only sustained a single complaint that a police officer had used unreasonable force. While there is no correct rate at which a police department must or should sustain this kinds of complaints, that statistic is stunningly low for a police department of this size,” said Fishman.
The report calls for major reforms, including a monitor of the department, an early warning tracking system of officers to stem major infractions of the law and supervisors going in the field to better train officers to write reports.
“Together with you, the city and the police department we hope to reform and revitalize the police department,” said Jocelyn Samuels of the Department of Justice.
The Justice Department investigation of Newark Police seems to amount to quite an indict of the police department when it comes to excessive force, stop-and-frisk and lack of reviewing and training officers. But it’s also an investigation that the new mayor seems to embrace.
“I believe that things have to be uncovered. So the Department Of Justice did an excellent job in uncovering things that people suspected for some time,” said Mayor Ras Baraka. “It kind of emboldens us to do the right thing.”
Forty-seven years ago this month, Newark police arrested and beat up cabbie John Smith and touched off a race riot of epic proportions.
The ACLU of New Jersey says it’s been seeking a major review of Newark police for years and it filed a formal petition with the Justice Department before the feds began their investigation.
“This is a historical moment for the city of Newark,” said Udi Ofer of the ACLU of New Jersey
Newark has accepted the Justice Department’s findings and has begun entering into a consent decree to reform under a watchful federal judge and the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.