DOJ’s Plan To Reform Police Department Notorious For Racial Bias

CREDIT: AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, front, stands with Vanita Gupta, left, principal deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Paul Fishman, second from left, U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, and Anthony Ambrose, right, Newark public safety director, while speaking during a news conference,

Nearly two years after the Department of Justice (DOJ) released a damning report on Newark officers’ unreasonable use of excessive force and racially discriminatory stops and arrests, the city and federal agency have revealed their plan to drastically alter the Newark Police Department.

According to a final settlement announced at a press conference Wednesday, most of the NPD’s officers will be equipped with body cams and participate in revamped use-of-force training. All police cars will be equipped with cameras, and the department will implement new computer technology to record and investigate misconduct. Officers also have to respect witnesses’ First Amendment right to record police encounters.

Peter C. Harvey, New Jersey’s former attorney general, will monitor the changes.

“Once a judge approves our agreement, an independent monitor will assess and report on the implementation progress for an initial term of five years,” Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, wrote in a statement. “The agreement will end once the city demonstrates to the court substantial and effective compliance for two consecutive years.”

The DOJ launched an investigation of the NPD in 2011, in response to ACLU allegations of gross misconduct within the department. The years later, the agency released a final report corroborating those allegations.

The DOJ found that 20 percent of the use-of-force incidents reported to the NPD’s internal affairs were unreasonable. Officers punched, slammed, choked, and kicked people without justifiable cause. Physical force was often used in retaliation against people who questioned officers’ actions and authority. The Department also discovered that 75 percent of police stops were unreasonable, because the motivating factors didn’t meet the constitutional standards for reasonable suspicion. People were routinely stopped for “loitering” or “wandering,” and racially-profiling was the norm.

Eighty-five percent of pedestrian stops involved African Americans, who only make up 54 percent of Newark’s population. Likewise, black people were 2.7 times more likely to be searched and 3.1 times more likely to be frisked than their white counterparts.

When the results of the investigation were published in 2014, the NPD consented that change was necessary. Mayor Ras Baraka signed an executive decree to establish a civilian oversight committee last year.

The settlement announced on Wednesday finalized the terms of all agreed-upon changes.