Appellate court restores subpoena power to Newark CCRB

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, amid the euphoria, reacted to the state superior court appellate division upholding the city’s law creating its civilian complaint review board, or CCRB.

“This is an example of what we could do if we stick to it and be patient,” he said.

The ruling comes nearly five years after the Justice Department recommended oversight of the Newark Police Department.

It was a unanimous decision. The three-judge panel said, “ […] we conclude that the CCRB can function as intended under the Ordinance, including providing an oversight role by investigating police misconduct, conduct hearings, participating in the development of a disciplinary matrix, making recommendations, and issuing subpoenas.”

Baraka’s father was among those demanding such civilian oversight more than five decades ago.

“I think this is a historic moment for this city. I wish my father was alive to see how far we have come,” Baraka said.

The celebration may be premature. The Newark Fraternal Order of Police says, “The Newark Police Department has made huge strides over the last couple of years regarding issues brought to light during the DOJ investigation […] granting subpoena powers to a group of individuals violates the New Jersey Constitution, as well as previous court decisions, and we are already weighing our appeal options to ensure the rights of our members are protected moving forward.”

The ACLU of New Jersey says, “ […] the city’s CCRB provides an example – for every municipality in New Jersey and around the nation – of how to restore power in communities that bear the brunt of an unjust system at the hands of law enforcement.”

“You need an independent agent, an independent advocate for non-police people,” said Larry Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress.

Since the legal fight began, Newark’s 11-member CCRB has been undergoing training and referring citizen complaints to the Public Safety Department.

Brian Corr presides over the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. Corr says the vast majority of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies don’t have civilian oversight. But he says most major cities do, and the most effective oversight among inspectors general, monitors, and complaint review boards, and others depends on community issues and needs.

“Subpoena power is not a necessity but it certainly can be helpful. It can help ensure that all the information, witnesses, materials that would be necessary to find out what happened are available,” Corr said.

Corr says the bigger role of oversight is changing the situations that lead to misconduct — holding people accountable but also ensuring the department has the policies and the training for law enforcement and the increasingly changing roles of officers.