Lopez v. Venezia: Challenger Claims Mayor Uncooperative About Racial Profiling Study

Lopez (right) with one Bloomfield resident who said he was racially profiled by Bloomfield Police.

Lopez (right) at the event he hosted last month pictured with one Bloomfield resident who said he was racially profiled by Bloomfield Police.

A Seton Hall Law report released last month brought racial profiling to the forefront of the conversation in Bloomfield when it alleged that race was a major factor in how the municipality’s police issued tickets.

Now, that report has become a major sticking point between Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia and the challenger for his seat Councilman Joseph Lopez. Last month, Lopez held a public meeting with legislative officials and public officers to discuss the report. While Venezia and other Bloomfield administrators were invited, they opted not to attend. Venezia will be holding his own discussion on Tuesday. That discussion will include representatives from the NAACP, Bloomfield Police Director Samuel DeMaio, study authors and elected officials.

Venezia will host a forum to discuss the issue on May 3.

Venezia will host a forum to discuss the issue on May 3.

On Monday, one day before Venezia’s meeting, Lopez released a statement asking Venezia and his administration for three data sets he claims will provide a “better understanding of police services in Bloomfield.” The information requested includes: (1) Dataset report of the Info-Cop or Info-Share system with the aggregate data showing the race and number of motorists stopped and/or ticketed in the Township of Bloomfield from implementation date to up-to-date; (2) E-Ticketing System (Electronic Ticket System) administrative dataset of all the tickets issued by all the officers of the police department since the first day of implementation of E-ticketing by Info-Cop to up-to-date (April 15, 2016); and (3) The Township of Bloomfield Police Department’s completed form UCR-365 (Monthly Count of Offenses Known to the Police) for the months of January 2007 through the present.

“Seton Hall has been asking for specific documentation in order to analyze data not available to the public and to work in concert with police officials,” said Lopez who also included a letter from SHU professor and study author Mark Denbeaux with his statement. “However, from what I understand, as of this date, the Mayor’s office and Director DeMaio have yet to provide the information. Conversely, the researchers provided the 9,700 tickets used as part of the study to the Mayor for his own staff to review so the process is transparent and fair. I would hope that Police Director DeMaio and Mayor Venezia would provide Seton Hall with the information so that we all can have a better understanding of police services in Bloomfield.”

According to Team Venezia spokesman Phil Swibinski, the calls from Lopez for additional data are misleading for a number of reasons.

“Once again Joe Lopez is attempting to politicize the Seton Hall study and use this emotionally-charged issue as a cynical ploy to bail out his failing campaign,” Swibinski said. “The information that Seton Hall requested was overly broad in one case, asked for racial data from systems that do not track race in another and was already publicly available in a third — all of this was told to Lopez, yet he is still dishonestly claiming that the information should have been provided when he knows full well that it could not have been unless the requests were revised, which they were not. This is a staggering level of dishonesty, even from the Lopez campaign which has made numerous false statements since it began. “

In Lopez’s statement, the mayoral hopeful called the requested data “information that may vindicate the work [the] Police Department has undertaken.”

“The public is entitled to answers regarding the racial profiling allegations and how the Police Department defends its actions,” Lopez’s statement said. “The only way we’re going to get to the bottom of what has been a troubling episode in our town’s history is for everyone to have immediate access to the records Seton Hall requested. By denying the public these records, a cloud of suspicion remains over the Police Department that may be unjustified, giving rise to aspersions that there is something to hide. Mike Venezia’s solution is to deny, discredit and denounce the Seton Hall study, after he first stated he welcomed the chance to address the matter publicly and honestly. “

According to Swibinski, Venezia’s team is working to address the allegations of racial profiling as quickly as possible.

“Along with Police Director Samuel DeMaio, Mayor Venezia has already had a productive meeting with the NAACP on these issues and is reaching out to other groups such as the ACLU to continue creating a dialogue,” Swibinski said. “That’s why he scheduled a community meeting that will be held tomorrow night, where Director DeMaio will give an extensive presentation using Bloomfield Police data, which will then be provided to the study authors and the public. To come out with this statement only a day before the meeting will be held shows a fundamental lack of seriousness on the issue and proves once again that Lopez is only interested in scoring political points, not helping the community move forward.”

Both Venezia and Lopez are Democrats and will be facing off against one another for mayor in the June 7 primary.

Lopez v. Venezia: Challenger Claims Mayor Uncooperative About Racial Profiling Study