By David Cruz
Annette Alston teaches sixth grade in Newark. She’s also a community activist has seen up close how police/community relations have devolved over the years while mistrust of police has continued to rise among residents here, young people especially.
“We have taught our children that when you’re in trouble, when there’s a problem, you go to a police officer because they’re the ones who protect us in our communities; they look out for us,” said Civilian Complaint Review Board member Annette Alston. “And it’s important to have people in our community who love our community, who respect our community, respect our youth and their parents.”
Alston is one of the seven members of the Civilian Complaint Review Board named by Mayor Ras Baraka this week. The Mayor announced the creation – by executive order – of the city’s first-ever Civilian Complaint Review Board back in January. It’s something other Newark mayors have only ever talked about. In the intervening months the administration has been working out the details of the CCRB and this week’s announcement suggests that the administration is poised for implementation of the board.
“We’re still working out some issues with the [Attorney General’s] office around the AG guidelines and trying to get it as perfectly as we possibly can,” said Mayor Ras Baraka, “and I know it’s not gonna be completely perfect but just enough to withstand court battles, which is almost inevitable, imminent even, so we are prepared for that, to have to go to court if we need to.”
And if you listen to Captain John Chrystal, of the Police Officer Superiors Association, a legal battle could be – as the mayor suggested – imminent. The union has already filed a complaint with the state’s Public Employees Relations Commission
“We have a disciplinary review procedure in place that was negotiated,” said Chrystal. “We also have an internal affairs policy in place that’s negotiated and it’s incorporated into our collective bargaining agreement, so we’re alleging that this is an unfair labor practice that the city is doing by creating the civilian complaint review board, or certain aspects of it.”
Including, whether or not this body should have subpoena powers to compel testimony, something that few CCRB’s outside of New York City’s have. CCRB members like RaShawn Davis say that is an important element, but not a deal breaker.
“There are elements of the board that really make it strong and make it unique in the county, such as the “clear error” standard, so if the board does find that an officer is found of wrongdoing, we make our recommendations to the police director and the only way that they can be denied is if there is clear error in the investigation,” he noted.
Member Victor Monterrosa added “We need to make sure that we use the tools that are available to us but, not only that also work on moving from this being an executive order to an organization established by an ordinance as well as finding proper funding and finding people to train the people who’ll be on the board.”
Other members of the board are Richard Robinson, of the NAACP; security specialist Harrison Munoz, and clergy members Pablo Pizarro, Jr., and Bryant Ali. Still to be named is an Inspector General. Sources say the board hopes to operate with a million dollar budget in its first year. The hope here is that the city council will move to codify the board by municipal ordinance before the end of the year.
“The minute we actually have a real case that they’re actually investigating and going through, then we’ll get a real challenge. And that’ll be where the test is,” added Baraka.
The mayor says he’s undaunted by any threat of litigation. He plans to go forward with the implementation of the CCRB and will take his chances in court.