NEWARK, NJ - The federal monitor assigned to keep track of the Newark Police Division’s reforms called for a culture change in the internal affairs unit that handles civilian complaints against officers.
Police investigators would reflexively resolve disputes between officers and civilians in favor of the cops, according to the monitor’s review of 144 internal affairs cases between 2015-16. It also appeared in some cases that a lack of English proficiency was used to discredit civilians complaints, the report said.
The findings were outlined in a sixth quarterly report by Peter Harvey, a former state Attorney General under Gov. James McGreevey, who was appointed by the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2016 to review the police division. Harvey was appointed following a 2014 report from the DOJ that outlined a pattern of unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests.
“NPD is not what it was at the time of these incidents [in] 2015 and 2016,” Peter Harvey reminded residents during a presentation Tuesday night at the New Hope Baptist Church. “It is better."
Newark Police Division and Capt. Brian O'Hara, who is a commanding officer of the decree, linked residents who voiced concerns about the police with other officers right at the meeting to address their issues.
“The consent decree stuff, it's about the trust part,” O’Hara said at the church after residents raised concerns about the police division. “And we need folks to be able to give us a chance.”
The NPD has already drafted a new policy for internal affairs, but it is not yet approved or fully implemented. Still, the division has already started some of the monitoring team's recommendations.
"The Newark Police Division is proactively working with the Department of Justice and the Rogers Group to develop a new curriculum aimed at training Internal Affairs investigators," said O'Hara in a March 22 statement. "In this effort, we are creating an additional 40 hours of training to supplement the training provided by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. This additional training will far exceed any internal affairs training offered in the State of New Jersey."
One of the changes already in place put an end to officers providing written statements for internal affairs investigations. Officers were previously allowed to write out their version of events -- even with other officers present. The practice would sometimes result in officers having nearly identical statements about an event under investigation.
Internal affairs investigators will now have to conduct in-person interviews with officers, which allows them to follow up more quickly and corroborate evidence.
The quarterly report also brought up domestic violence issues that were mentioned in the monitor’s second-year assessment, which was released around October.
For example, an investigator didn't get a translator for a person who was making a domestic violence complaint against an NPD officer. That investigation yielded a not sustained finding, the monitor's report said. The report says the result may have been different if, perhaps, the investigator fully understood the complainant.
Investigators would also routinely administer Miranda warning to complainants, which the report said are unnecessary and discourage victims participating in the complaint process. The report recommended that civilian complaint intakes against officers should not take place in precinct lobbies either.
The report found internal affairs has computer software that only uses broad categories to label officers' alleged conduct, a practice that doesn't reflect the seriousness of allegations. One complaint that described the alleged sexual assault of a minor by an officer in graphic detail was only labeled as a “misdemeanor” in the division’s system, the monitor's report said.
O'Hara said in an email the incident was handled as a criminal complaint against the officer, who was suspended without pay.
"The classification was a clerical error with no bearing on the outcome of the investigation," O'Hara said. "The matter was properly handled."
The city hired a consultant to prepare a report about what the NPD needs in its computer system to track information about officers and other data about policing. That software will also be necessary to help the monitor with his final audit.
“This data system upgrade is going to be across the board,” Harvey said. “It has to be because Newark, frankly, is not at the minimum standard for police agencies its size.”
The internal affairs review in this report was just a small sample used as a starting point so the monitoring team could measure the progress of the internal affairs unit in the future. The monitor will begin a full audit of certain areas by mid-2019.
"We can't audit some of this behavior because we can't get the data out of the computers. And one thing that we won't do is a perfunctory audit just to report to the court or report to you that we conducted an audit and this was the best we could figure out,” Harvey said.
To learn more about the consent decree, visit npdconsentdecree.org.
UPDATE: This story was updated at 6:21 p.m. on March 22 with comments from the Newark Police Division.