Newark, NJ—The Newark Police Department is working toward fulfilling the majority of requirements outlined in a 2016 consent decree between the Department of Justice, NPD and the City of Newark that requires Newark police to implement significant reforms after a 2014 report concluded the NPD engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional policing.
Although a recently-released DOJ report shows noncompliance with the majority of requirements outlined in the agreement, the department said the six-month-old report is inaccurate and most of the mandated policies have already been drafted and are in varying stages of implementation.
The 2014 findings documented the NPD’s practice of constitutional violations in its stop and arrest practices; retaliation against individuals exercising their rights under the First Amendment; excessive use of force; and theft by officers.
The investigation, which began in 2011, also revealed deficiencies in NPD systems designed to prevent and detect misconduct.
The City of Newark agreed to enter into a court-enforceable, independently monitored agreement to reform the NPD to ensure constitutional policing, the implementation of new policies and procedures, additional trainings and increased accountability through accurate record keeping and transparency.
The terms outlined in the agreement include the need for the NPD to develop and implement improvements to its stop, search and arrest and use of force policies and procedures, and to train its officers on effective and constitutional policing.
The NPD also agreed to implement systems committed to building police-community partnerships throughout the city.
The Third Quarterly Report, which spans the period between June 1, 2017 through September 30, 2017, states that although the NPD has finalized several policies, the department still lacks the capacity to complete most of the tasks mandated by the DOJ Monitoring Plan.
But Newark Police Captain Brian O'Hara said there have been substantial improvements since the report period ended.
"At this point, we have almost every policy either drafted and approved or ready to be approved," he said, noting the approval of nine policies thus far, as well as changes in personnel. "That document is basically just historical. Our goal is to have every policy approved by May 30. The Newark Police Department will be the first department to have all policies done within the first two years."
The consent decree allows for a five-year window to fulfill all DOJ-mandated requirements.
O'Hara said the DOJ has been collaborating with the department and cited improvements in specific areas, including community policing.
"There has been an additional 40 hours of additional training," he said. "Every sworn member is taking part in this training. The process takes time. We acknowledge that things have been done wrong in the past by the NPD and now we are trying to engage the community. We are doing whatever we can to get community input."
Former New Jersey First Assistant Attorney General Peter Harvey, appointed as the independent monitor in 2016, has been actively assessing the city’s and NPD’s implementation and compliance with the agreement and addressed report findings at a community meeting this week.
"We do not run the police department," Harvey said at a recent community meeting. "The police run the police department, and the mayor has ultimate oversight over the ploce department. The NPD is trying to work out a training schedule. Newark missed a couple of training deadlines. It's tough to comply with these deadlines with 1,100 officers. The Newark Police Department is committed to implementing this training and providing it."
Harvey noted the DOJ Monitoring Team is providing technical assistance to help the department draft policies and a group of experts recruited to help create and implement a new data system.
During the 2011 investigation, the DOJ reviewed thousands of NPD documents, including written policies and procedures, documentation of stops, searches and arrests, internal investigation files and use of force reports and reviews.
“Our investigation uncovered troubling patterns in stops, arrests and use of force by the police in Newark,” said then-Attorney General Eric Holder. “With this agreement, we’re taking decisive action to address potential discrimination and end unconstitutional conduct by those who are sworn to serve their fellow citizens. Under today’s agreement, Newark Police officials are taking the first in a series of important steps to restore public trust in their Department and ensure both the safety and the civil rights of Newark residents.”
Attorneys and investigators also interviewed NPD officers, supervisors and command staff and city officials, and met with hundreds of community members and local advocates.
The DOJ found the NPD has engaged in a pattern of excessive force, unconstitutional stops and a failure to articulate sufficient justification for nearly 75 percent of pedestrian stops.
NPD officers disproportionately stopped African Americans, who made up the majority of unconstitutional stops and arrests, with African Americans accounting for 85 percent of pedestrian stops and nearly 80 percent of arrests.
The report also found that NPD officers had detained and arrested individuals who lawfully objected to police actions or behaved in a way that officers perceived as disrespectful in violation of the First Amendment and found a pattern of theft of citizens’ property by NPD officers, including officers in NPD’s specialized units such as the narcotics and gang units and at NPD’s prisoner processing unit.
O'Hara said although the department still faces challenges, the NPD has come a long way in recent years.
"The police department today is different today than it was in 2010," he said, citing 400 new hires in the last three years. "The people are changing and we're looking at it as an opportunity to change the bureaucracy. I think we're at a level we haven't seen before."