By David Cruz
“The culture of the department will be changed, no matter what it was yesterday, two years ago or 20 years ago,” said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
It was a bold declaration from the mayor of the state’s largest city, and an indication of the monumental change expected from those gathered for today’s press conference. The long-anticipated announcement that the city and the Department of Justice had entered into a consent decree that aims to reverse a pattern of police corruption that has permeated the department and poisoned police/community relations.
“The men and women who wear the uniform of the Newark Police Department bring enormous dedication, integrity and pride to their jobs every day,” declared U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. “At the same time, we also found an organization that is challenged in fundamental ways and has engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional policing in a broad range of areas.”
Including racial profiling, unconstitutional stop and frisk, excessive force and theft, but also terrible training and accountability and poor record keeping. The consent decree covers all of this and sets a series of reforms that requires the Newark Police Department to improve officer training, revise its search and seizure policy, integrate bias-free policing principles, deploy in-car and body-worn cameras, collect data on all uses of force, stops, searches and arrests and create a civilian oversight entity.
At least that part of the decree is already being put into place as the city council recently approved the creation of a civilian complaint review board– although that effort is subject of a court challenge from the police union.
“The CCRB has a variety of different powers or attributes,” said Fishman. “There’s the subpoena power which you referred to and is somewhat controversial, as I have read about it in the press and talked about it with people, but the CCRB also has the power to look more broadly across the police department to look at trends and data and see what kinds of cases are coming in to make sure the complaint process is working and so forth. All of that is part of civilian review and is very important to the process.”
Part of the delay in getting to today’s announcement was the search for a federal monitor. Fishman announced that former State Attorney General Peter Harvey has been named to serve as the leader of the monitoring team. Harvey is the state’s first black attorney general. He served in the McGreevey administration and has been in private practice since 2006. All of this will be subject to court approval.
“The court both needs to approve our consent decree but also approve the selection of the monitor so we have a few steps remaining,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “The monitor is critically important in the enforcement of these agreements. What they insure is that there’s compliance and that there’s a process of evaluating that compliance.”
The price tag for the process will be about $7.5 million, a bill which the city will foot and money says Mayor Ras Baraka well spent, when the city reaches a day when cops comply with just policing guidelines and residents don’t have to sue for police brutality and worse.
“This comes at a time when we have a new department,” assured Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose. “We have new officers being hired. Bad habits can become old habits, a culture can be changed, so we welcome it.”
The monitor will have to report regularly to the Department of Justice, and more importantly, the people of the city. Fishman called Newark a great city, with great people who deserve a great police department.
It has taken the city a long time to get to this point. The federal monitor is expected to be here for at least five years to try to change a culture that has metastasized over decades.