Dawn Haynes of the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition spent the time looking, listening and livestreaming.
“I know how important it is for us to be informed and how to give the information to other people that’s in our community that may not be as interested in being in this type of environment,” Haynes said.
An environment set up by the NJ Institute for Social Justice and the independent federal monitor supervising the reform of the Newark Police Department after the Justice Department found a long list of constitutional violations in policing. This is reform in action, residents and the monitoring team giving direct feedback to the department in the midst of revising its policies for bias-free policing and use of force.
“For the first time we will require that officers that use force and officers that witness the use of force complete reports and also notify a supervisor,” said Sgt. Miguel Aviles. “What’s new and what we are also going to do is also require the officers to do is report the unholstering, exhibiting or pointing of a firearm in the presence of the public.”
“That’s an important accomplishment,” said Wayne Fisher, executive director of the Rutgers Policing Institute.
Fisher is a member of the monitoring team. He says it’s about transparency and accountability.
“So too will accountability of police officers flourish when it it made clear that one and another police officers share in the accountability of their fellow officers much as they do for their own accountability,” he said.
As residents listened to Newark police explain the revised policy on the use of force, one piece of that policy really stood out: holding officers who witness force accountable for reporting it.
“I think that that is pivotal in what we’re dealing with because we hear not all cops are bad. Well, where are the good cops when the bad cops are being bad? And I think that this is a level of accountability that is definitely needed,” Haynes said.
Rutgers Dean Rod Brunson, who is also on the monitoring team, said the policy should include parts of an encounter that don’t make the evening news.
“Incidents began with police officers pushing, shoving, going into their pockets, treating them in hostile ways that communicate discouragement. And it’s perhaps unfair to expect a policy address these things, but I think that it is a good start to having a conversation and having a dialogue,” Brunson said.
My Brother’s Keeper’s Will Simpson said many of the African-American men police encounter on the streets of Newark suffer from PTSD, the same way some returning veterans do, and the policy revisions should reflect that and more.
“In my opinion, it’s important to have black and brown people writing that policy. Right now, as currently constituted, I’m not sure, I know we had a meeting a couple weeks back, there wasn’t a man of color, there was not an black man on this team from the police department side involved in writing and rewriting this policy,” Simpson said.
On bias-free policing, the policy draft lists at least eight hours of comprehensive training among 10 points. The ACLU’s Dianna Houenou suggested some revisions.
“Right now the policy isn’t very clear that investigations are also subject to this bias policy, and it’s important because bias can seep into investigations in several ways,” she said.
This forum took place two weeks before Newark marks the 50 anniversary of the summer of 1967.
“I think this is an opportune moment. This is a moment 50 years in the making, five decades in the making, going back to the Newark Rebellion. And I think Newark has an opportunity to serve as an example of what policing should look like in this country,” NJ Institute for Social Justice President and CEO Ryan Haygood.