Federal monitor discusses Newark Police Department progress

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

The progress is mixed — that’s the assessment of Peter Harvey, the former state attorney general who is the federal monitor of the Newark Police Department. Harvey joins Correspondent Michael Hill to discuss the progress.

Hill: Your report, significant progress. Which areas are we talking about?

Harvey: Well, body cameras — 427 with police officers on the street, in excess of 50 car cameras, that’s very good. The Newark Police have done something that almost no city police department has done under a consent decree. They have completed, in a two-year period, all the policies required by the consent decree. Most police departments fight with the monitor in the first year and a half. Newark didn’t do that. Under the leadership of the police director here, and ultimately the mayor, Newark has worked really hard to write these policies, and they’re good policies. They represent modern policing and it’s to be admired.

Hill: Which other areas are we talking about? You mentioned body cameras already.

Harvey: Body cameras, car cameras, policies have been written — that’s all to the good. Now we’re about to move to training and Newark is starting to write the first generation of scenario-based training materials for police officers.

Hill: Who should that trainer be?

Harvey: Ultimately, we recommend in the report that Newark needs a training director.

Hill: And someone with the legal background?

Harvey: It would help, not necessary, but you need at least a master’s degree to teach this because you’re talking about writing. This isn’t a lesson plan for high school or college. This isn’t a PowerPoint. To write these kinds of trainings, you have to give cops fact patterns and give them questions — can you do this, can you not do this? You have to give them video — what about here, what can you do now, what can you do in this situation? So you need someone who knows about policing, but also knows the constitution and knows the differences between the federal constitution and the state constitution. New Jersey is more restrictive than the federal constitution in a lot of ways.

Hill: What’s the prospect of the city, two years in, about to enter the third year, what’s the prospect of getting that trainer. And not having that trainer at this point, what’s it doing in terms of meeting this consent decree and reforming this department?

Harvey: Well, let me tell you what Newark has done, which I think is smart. They’ve hired third-party, outside experts to come in and help write the training, the first generation of training. That’s good. Ultimately what we’re trying to do is urge the city to institutionalize its training, so that it not only can administer these scenarios in the future, and modify the scenarios as the law changes — either on the federal level or on the state level — but also they can keep track of who has been trained. And when you have not been trained after a certain period of time, for example, you may get an email: “Officer Hill, Sgt. Hill, you have not been trained on the new use of force protocols. You need to come in for your six hours of training.”

Hill: When you start talking about institutionalizing this, you talking about something as common and well known, regardless of who’s there in the department, it’s as common and well known as breathing.

Harvey: Let me put it to you this way, I don’t subscribe to the strong man, strong woman theory. I believe you have to have a system in place so that no matter who comes into that system, there are certain institutional protocols that one must follow. And I think that will serve, not only Newark well, but most police departments well so that you can survive a bad hire because your institutional protections and protocols are such that everyone knows what needs to be done.

Hill: Mr. Harvey, you still make a point of the department still has issues with employing folks in data gathering, community engagement, and even when it comes to responding to domestic violence calls.

Harvey: Let’s deal with data first. If you are a commander, if you are a captain, if you are a lieutenant, and you want to know what a particular group of officers is doing on the street, you should be able to go to a computer system, put in that officer’s name and badge number and get video from the body camera, video from the car camera, arrest reports. You should be able to find out whether any complains have been filed against that officer in internal affairs, whether any civil complains have been filed in court. You need to know that. Right now Newark can’t do that. You would literally have to go to five or six different sources, and that’s just a matter of having antiquated technology.

Hill: Are they working toward improving that?

Harvey: They are. Let me tell you something that the police director did that’s very smart. He hired an independent consultant, on IT specifically, that is not tethered to any particular IT company or any particular product company. We’re going to get an assessment by the end of the year, the police department is, it’ll be shared with us, and the consultant will say here’s what you can keep, here’s what you need to throw out, here’s what you need to upgrade.

Hill: On domestic violence calls?

Harvey: Yes, well, what we discovered in examining the internal affairs files that some police officers who would engage in domestic violence acts did not have those acts sustained by internal affairs and we want to pay closer attention to that and urge the police department to do it. With respect to civilians, what we found is that some, there was uneven treatment of persons who complained about domestic violence, particularly if they did not speak English fluently. Sometimes they were not treated with the patience and the care that we know the police department wants to give, and we know the city wants to give, in light of the new domestic violence center up on Clinton Ave.