Justice Department and Newark agree to police reforms

MGN Online

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) – The federal government and Newark announced a settlement Wednesday to reform the city’s police department, 20 months after a Justice Department investigation concluded officers routinely used excessive force and stopped people on the street for no legitimate reason, practices that disproportionately affected minority residents.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said that he has recommended to a judge that former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey serve as a monitor over the department for five years. Harvey served as attorney general when New Jersey’s state police department was under a federal consent decree over racial profiling.

The settlement agreement unveiled Wednesday will require Newark police to implement a more community-focused police model, revise policies and training on stops and searches and revise use-of-force policies.

Newark police will also equip all patrol cars with video cameras and require most officers to wear body cameras.

“This decree will serve as a roadmap for reform in the city of Newark, and as a model for best police practices across the country,” Fishman said.

The agreement also calls for a police civilian review board, which Newark’s city council approved earlier this month.

The Justice Department’s three-year investigation, released in July 2014, validated many allegations in a 2010 American Civil Liberties Union complaint that accused police of rampant misconduct, use of excessive force and lax internal oversight.

The investigation also found that over a three-and-a-half year period, 75 percent of pedestrian stops were made without constitutionally adequate reasons, often targeting people who were merely in high-crime areas.

Eighty-five percent of those stopped were black in a city where blacks make up 54 percent of the population.

The cost of monitoring will be borne by the city of Newark and will be capped at roughly $7.5 million over the course of the agreement, Fishman said.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said he was “not ecstatic” about the price tag, but said the cost could be balanced by fewer lawsuits against the police department for excessive force and other complaints.

The 2010 ACLU complaint to the Justice Department that preceded the federal investigation found New Jersey’s largest city had paid out nearly $5 million in legal settlements over 2½ years.

Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose said he welcomed the monitoring as an opportunity for a culture shift in the department.

“We don’t view this as someone looking down our backs or over our shoulders,” he said.

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