NEWARK, NJ — The New Jersey Supreme Court may have issued its decision against Newark’s civilian police review board with subpoena power, but city officials and advocates aren’t backing down.
They are more motivated now than ever to continue the fight for a Civilian Complaint Review Board, so much so they want to bring the whole state with them. Mayor Ras Baraka announced Tuesday that in addition to submitting an appeal to the federal courts, Newark is drafting legislation that would enable every municipality in New Jersey to create a CCRB with powers like the ones originally granted to Newark’s via ordinance.
“We are going to fight this case,” Baraka said at a press conference. “This is necessary, and we’re going to win. We have an opportunity to win together.”
On August 19, the state Supreme Court sided with the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 12, which has been entangled legally with Newark over the CCRB for the last four years. Justices issued a 6-1 decision to strip the CCRB of its ability to issue subpoenas and conduct parallel investigations with Newark Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner delivered the sole dissenting opinion, writing that it would be difficult for a CCRB to gather the information it needed without subpoena power. He also said that across the country, review boards function the way Newark envisions its own.
City Corporate Counsel Kenyatta Stewart said the legislation gives every municipality in the state an opportunity to have a CCRB through three options: A mayor can ask council to establish the CCRB, or council can pass legislation independently. The third way is for citizens of a municipality to petition their government to put a CCRB on the ballot.
County Commissioners would also be able to establish their own CCRBs to provide oversight of sheriff’s officers. Municipalities can opt into these county CCRBS as well, according to Stewart, who added that each CCRB must maintain a quorum and ensure mediation.
“All police bodies should have oversight. Your constitutional rights can also be violated by the sheriff’s, or the state,” Baraka said.
Coming on the heels of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot seven times in the back in front of his children by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Newark's champions of independent police oversight spoke to the urgency of a review board with broad investigatory abilities. Stewart urged those with complaints against Newark police to go to the CCRB starting now, as it still has the ability to conduct investigations.
“Let’s be honest about how we got here. Between 2007-2012, the IA found one complaint was founded,” Stewart said. “Go to the CCRB, because that would give them the option to do the investigation and hopefully get the result that we’re looking for.”
A bill from Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31) also sought to establish a CCRB in every municipality and state, but without the powers Newark hopes to push forward. Baraka said his team is working with the Essex and Passaic County delegations to combine the two bills, and so far has sponsorship from Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumpter (D-Bergen, Passaic), McKnight, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Passaic), Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker (D-Essex) and state Senator Ron Rice (D).
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, whose own city has expressed interest in establishing a CCRB, spoke to the fractured policies and laws that govern policing in New Jersey. The Civil Service Commission and long-term contracts for unaccountable police chiefs, for instance, necessitate unbiased, independent oversight, in his view.
“If you take an objective look at policing laws and rules here in New Jersey, you would come to the conclusion that they’re fundamentally broken,” Fulop said. “There is a patchwork of a lot of well-intentioned laws that make it virtually impossible to get any meaningful change in any police department.”
Critics of the CCRB as Newark imagines it, however, allege that it would inject politics into the daily operations of the police department. To those critics, and the officers who agree with them, Baraka asks they fight alongside Newark.
“We want you to stand with us, we welcome you to stand with us. The civilian review board not only protects us, it protects you,” he said.
Residents who with to file a complaint with Newark's CCRB can do so by calling 973-792-9160 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.