DOJ Forces Overhaul of Newark’s Racially Biased Police Department

By Kenrya Rankin Mar 31, 2016

Just weeks after reaching an agreement with leadership in Ferguson, Missouri, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is working to clean up the police department in another U.S. city.

Yesterday (March 30), the DOJ announced that it has reached a settlement with the city of Newark, New Jersey, that stands to completely overhaul the way local police interact with citizens. In July 2014, the DOJ concluded an investigation into Newark Police Department (NPD) practices that found a “pattern of constitutional violations” that disproportionately infringe on the rights of Black residents. The new consent decree, which still needs to be approved by a federal judge, aims to address those violations.

“We found a series of troubling practices—including unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests, the use of excessive force and theft by officers—in violation of the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments,” Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, said in a press conference. “We found practices that not only broke the law, but also eroded trust. We found policies that not only harmed residents, but also lacked accountability. And we found systems that not only failed the community, but also failed officers themselves.”

The agreement calls for comprehensive reform in 12 areas. The DOJ described the changes in a press release:

  • NPD will improve officer training to ensure that officers develop the necessary technical and practical skills required to carry out NPD directives consistently.
  • NPD will revise search and seizure policies, training and supervision to ensure that all stops, searches and arrests are conducted in accordance with the Constitution and in a manner that takes into account community priorities.
  • NPD will integrate bias-free policing principles into all levels of the organization, including comprehensive training of officers and supervisors.
  • NPD will reform use of force policies, including requirements for using de-escalation techniques whenever possible and appropriate, prohibiting retaliatory force and ensuring mandatory reporting and investigation standards following use of force.
  • NPD will deploy in-car and body-worn cameras to promote accountability, instill community confidence and improve law enforcement records.
  • NPD will implement measures to prevent theft of property by officers, including robust reporting and complete accounting of property or evidenced seized.
  • Office of Professional Standards investigators will be appropriately qualified and trained. Investigations of civilian complaints will be conducted in an objective, thorough and timely manner.
  • Newark will create a civilian oversight entity to give voice to and pursue concerns of its residents. 
  • NPD will develop protocols for conducting compliance reviews and integrity audits.
  • NPD will implement steps to ensure that the disciplinary process is fair and consistent.
  • NPD will improve records management and early intervention systems and collect data on all uses of force and investigatory stops, searches and arrests, and develop a protocol for the comprehensive analysis of the data. The information will be publicly reported.
  • NPD will strengthen its public information programs to ensure that members of the public are informed of NPD’s progress toward reform.

Peter Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general, will lead the reform effort. Read the full agreement here.