U.S. Attorney Fishman: Federal monitor on way as feds reveal findings of constitutional violations in Newark Police Department

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NEWARK – Following the announcement of the results of a three-year federal investigation that revealed significant civil rights violations by the Newark Police Department, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced that New Jersey’s largest police department will be placed under federal oversight. 

“We are announcing that we have signed an agreement in principle with the city and the police department to make the changes that will give the people of Newark the first-class police department that they deserve,” said Fishman at his agency’s offices in downtown Newark on Tuesday. “The agreement specifically states that we will now turn to finalize a consent agreement that will be filed and enforceable in federal court. That document will require the enforcement of a monitor to follow and report on the progress that the city and the police department are making.” 

The joint investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division began in 2011, less than a year after a highly critical report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) questioned whether the Newark Police Department could effectively police itself. 

The joint report revealed widespread violations of the Fourth Amendment, noting that up to 75 percent of stop-and-frisk pedestrian stops in Newark were unconstitutional. It also showed that while African-American residents comprise 54 percent of Newark’s population, they constitute nearly 80 percent of police stop-and frisks, as well as a pattern and practice of excessive use of force by police officers. 

“No police department can function correctly without effective reporting, supervision and review of the use of force,” Fishman said. “The city and the police department’s leadership have agreed that it needs to be fixed.

“The agreement, in principle, says that we will try to finalize the consent decree by the middle of September,” Fishman added. “That also contemplates the choosing of a monitor in the same time frame.” 

“I’m not going to disagree with anything in the report. We accept the report,” said Newark Police Department Director Eugene Venable. “We’re looking forward to making all of the corrections that have been offered to us and pinpointed to us in the Department of Justice report. I’m not going to put the blame on anything. We’re looking forward to just rolling up our sleeves, working on these problems and solving them.” 

The local chapter of the ACLU was quick to comment on the advent of a federal monitor for Newark’s police force on the organization’s website.

“This is a historic moment for Newark, one that could lead to the creation of a police force that is respectful of civil rights and that is accountable to the people of Newark,” said Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey, in a written statement. “The appointment of an independent monitor to oversee reforms of the Newark Police Department affirms the findings of the ACLU of New Jersey’s 2010 petition documenting widespread civil rights and civil liberties abuses by the Newark Police Department. But today’s historic report by the Justice Department is just the first step, and not the last, toward bringing permanent accountability to the Newark Police Department. In order to ensure that oversight outlasts any one federal monitor, effective reform must include the creation of permanent, independent, and strong civilian oversight of the Newark Police Department.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who has long been critical of some of the city police force’s practices, welcomed the proposed changes.

“One could look at this, 22 days in as the mayor, that the roof is caving in. But I look at it as an opportunity to build a new roof,” said Baraka, who was sworn in on July 1. “We are absolutely excited, not about the bad acts of a few police officers in our department, but that we have the ability to transform the Newark Police Department. We believe that the transformation of our police department leads to the transformation of our city that we have long been waiting for.”  

U.S. Attorney Fishman: Federal monitor on way as feds reveal findings of constitutional violations in Newark Police Department