NEWARK, NJ - Mayor Ras Baraka today rebuked the state Attorney General for saying Newark "exceeded its authority" when it created a Civilian Complaint Review Board to investigate local police misconduct.
“If Newark’s Civilian Review Board violates the Attorney General’s guidelines – and we don’t believe that it does – it is time for those guidelines to be updated to permit the kind of civilian investigation of police misconduct that takes place in New York and other cities," Baraka said in a statement.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal filed a brief in an ongoing lawsuit between the city and Newark’s Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 12 over the board’s power. In 2016, the 11-member board with subpoena power was created by the city to recommend discipline for police.
“Newark's [Civilian Complaint Review Board] ordinance impermissibly interferes with the statutory duties of Newark's police chief and intrudes on the police force's internal affairs function," Grewal wrote in the nearly 40-page legal brief.
City council passed a Civilian Complaint Review Board ordinance about three years ago that allowed a body of Newark residents to investigate and participate in the resolution of complaints against the city's police force. The board would have the ability to conduct independent, parallel investigations of complaints against police made by the public.
The board consists of members appointed by the mayor. Nominations may only be accepted from the ACLU of New Jersey, the NAACP of New Jersey, People's Organization for Progress, La Casa de Don Pedro, the Ironbound Community Corporation, the Newark Anti Violence Coalition and a representative of the clergy.
A civilian oversight entity was allowed for in a consent decree between the U.S. Department of Justice and the city. The consent decree was created in 2016 after a federal investigation found issues with the Newark Police Department's internal affairs.
However, a Superior Court judge last year prohibited the civilian board from engaging in investigations of police misconduct. The city is now appealing the decision in state Appellate Court, and the attorney general filed his legal brief there.
Baraka said the lower court's ruling in the Fraternal Order of Police suit is based on "antiquated guidelines" that were created by the Attorney General's Office long before Grewal was appointed.
The attorney general is responsible for creating statewide guidelines on internal affairs policy and procedures that municipalities are required to implement. Grewal said Newark’s local review board goes beyond the consent decree and superseded state law.
Grewal's brief last month did not deny the benefit of citizen complaint review boards to strengthen police-community relations. But he argued that Newark's public safety director would be required to adopt the civilian board's discipline recommendation, which in effect override the police force's internal affairs decisions.
Internal affairs files about police misconduct are confidential and can only be released in certain circumstances, including by court order or at the request of the attorney general or county prosecutor.
“The [Civilian Complaint Review Board] ordinance requires that otherwise confidential information be made available to the members of the [board],” the attorney general wrote. “That disclosure to civilian political appointees -- without more -- is itself a violation of the requirements of the [Internal Affairs] policy.”
Baraka, meanwhile, said the civilian review board was created since internal affairs investigations into officers were one-sided or went unanswered. He added that the attorney general's stance could put "lives in jeopardy."
“Thousands of residents have filed complaints of abuse and police brutality," Baraka wrote.
"Hundreds of New Jersey residents have mourned their loved ones who have been shot and killed by police officers or died while in police custody. Maintaining the Attorney General’s current position will leave many children subject to the misconduct that we have become all too familiar with, and simply puts their lives in jeopardy."