ACLU-NJ Report Reveals Troubling Use of Stop-and-Frisk in Newark

February 25, 2014
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Analysis reveals black Newarkers stopped disproportionately and bulk of stops involve innocent people

NEWARK – Newark Police officers use stop-and-frisk with troubling frequency and in a manner that leads to racial disparities, according to a report released today (4mb PDF) by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ). The report analyzes the first six months of data from the Newark Police Department, which releases the information on its website monthly in compliance with its new Transparency Policy. It is the first public analysis of the data.

“The police department’s data reveal disturbing patterns about the use of stop-and-frisk in Newark,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “Newark police make a high number of stops, disproportionately stop black Newarkers, and stop innocent people in the vast majority of cases. These findings raise significant constitutional red flags for the City of Newark.”

Although the ACLU-NJ acknowledges that six months of data may be insufficient to draw definitive conclusions about the Newark Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices, the organization believes the initial concerns raised by these data warrant corrective actions by the City of Newark now.

From July to December 2013, officers made 91 stops per 1,000 Newark residents—nearly one person stopped for every ten residents—exceeding the rate in New York City of eight stops per 1,000 residents over the same period in 2013. In all of 2013, the New York Police Department made 24 stops per 1,000 residents, still significantly lower than Newark’s rate. The ACLU-NJ chose to compare Newark’s stop-and-frisk practices with New York City’s because of its close proximity and because New York City’s practices have been the subject of much national attention and criticism. Although it is required under Newark’s Transparency Policy, it is unclear whether the first six months of reported data include stops of motor vehicles. New York City’s data does not appear to include motor vehicle stops.

In addition to the troublingly high frequency of stops, officers stop black Newarkers at disproportionate rates. Black Newarkers make up 52 percent of the population, but they represented 75 percent of all stops in the first six months of data. Newark Police did not report how many Latino residents were stopped last year, but at the urging of the ACLU-NJ, it began including that data in its January 2014 report.

The analysis also finds that of those stopped in Newark, 75 percent were innocent and walked away without receiving a summons or being arrested. The police did not disclose the nature of the arrests or summonses, nor did it disaggregate the two in its data reports. The ACLU-NJ recommends in its report that police provide this information in order to offer a more comprehensive picture of stop-and-frisk activity.

“The U.S. Supreme Court made clear decades ago that under our Constitution, police are permitted to stop people only if they have individualized and reasonable suspicion of a crime,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “When 75 percent of those stopped in Newark are innocent of any wrongdoing, it raises significant questions about what criteria officers are using when deciding to make a stop.”

The ACLU-NJ commends former Police Director Samuel DeMaio and former Mayor Cory Booker for making the police department more transparent and accountable to the public by releasing stop-and-frisk data to the public. The police department adopted the groundbreaking Transparency Policy in July 2013.

“Once fully implemented, the Newark Police Department’s transparency data policy will be a model for other law enforcement agencies in New Jersey and across the country,” said Rosmarin. “We look forward to continuing to work with the department and Acting Director Sheila Coley to ensure Newarkers have access to the comprehensive data and to address the concerns raised in our report.”

The ACLU-NJ is asking the Newark Police to release more information on stop-and-frisks, including the reasons for the stops, and whether those being stopped have limited English proficiency(in order to understand the impact of stop-and-frisk on immigrant communities), in accordance with the Transparency Policy. In addition, the ACLU-NJ also makes the following recommendations for the City of Newark:

  • Review stop-and-frisk practices, and pay particular attention to the high volume, racial disparities and innocence rate of stops.
  • Ensure that an appointed federal monitor investigates stop-and-frisk practices.
  • Establish independent mechanisms, like a strong civilian complaint review board and inspector general to monitor police practices.
  • Require officers to issue “receipts” to individuals following stops to document the interaction, build trust and enhance accountability.

“Our report’s findings about stop-and-frisk practices in Newark make a powerful case for robust and independent oversight of the Newark Police Department,” said Ofer. “A strong civilian complaint review board or inspector general’s office could provide long-lasting accountability and help usher in critical reforms to the department.”

In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned the use of stop-and-frisk in the case of Terry v. Ohio, but not without placing strict limitations on how and when police can use the tactic. Police officers may stop a person only when they have individualized and reasonable suspicion of a crime. They may pat down the outer layers of the person’s clothing following a lawful stop only when they reasonably suspect that the person is armed and poses a danger to the officer’s safety. In the decades since, stop-and-frisk has mutated in some large cities, particularly in low income communities of color, into a commonplace tactic that has been humiliating and unconstitutional.

The report was written by Udi Ofer and Ari Rosmarin. Data analysis was conducted by Sara LaPlante. The report was edited by Katie Wang, ACLU-NJ Communications Director, and Alexander Shalom, ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney.

ACLU-NJ Welcomes News Reports of Federal Monitor of Newark Police Department

February 9, 2014
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Star-Ledger Reports Department of Justice responds to ACLU-NJ petition by ordering federal monitor to preside over Newark Police

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) welcomes news reports that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will place the Newark Police Department (NPD) under federal oversight in order to safeguard against future civil rights and civil liberties abuses by law enforcement. The ACLU-NJ was the first to ask for a federal monitor in September 2010 after submitting a petition to the DOJ detailing more than 400 incidents of abuse and misconduct by the Newark Police Department.

The DOJ opened an investigation in May 2011.

“The Justice Department’s decision affirms the findings of our petition that the problems in the Newark Police Department have been so widespread and grave that they warrant outside, federal intervention and oversight to help turn the department around,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “But a federal monitor is just the first step, and not the last, towards bringing a permanently accountable police department to the people of Newark.”

In addition to the monitor, the ACLU-NJ is calling for the NPD to implement additional reforms such as a strong and independent civilian review board and inspector general to create permanent changes after the monitor’s period ends.

“In order to ensure that oversight of the Newark Police Department outlasts any one administration or any one federal monitor, any reforms must also include the creation of a strong and independent civilian complaint review board and an inspector general’s office,” said Ofer.

A civilian complaint review board will investigate complaints of misconduct against the Newark Police Department, and to be effective must have independent subpoena authority and the ability to discipline police officers who are found to engage in misconduct, as well as adequate funding and a fair and transparent process. An inspector general will have the authority to audit the police department and make recommendations for policies and practices.

The ACLU-NJ first called for federal intervention of the Newark Police Department in 1967, after rampant reports of police misconduct and abuse by the police during and after that summer’s clashes between residents and the police. In September 2010, the ACLU-NJ submitted a petition to the DOJ that documented 418 instances of police misconduct, including false arrests, excessive force, unlawful stops and searches, discrimination and retaliation, as well as a broken internal affairs system. The petition was based on a 2.5 year study that ended in 2010. In May 2011, the DOJ announced it would open an investigation into the reports of civil rights and civil liberties violations in the department.

“We thank Deborah Jacobs, the former executive director of the ACLU-NJ, for her persistence in making a strong, unequivocal case for the need for federal intervention,” said Ofer.

The DOJ has intervened in several other cities’ police departments since the ACLU-NJ filed its petition, including Seattle and New Orleans, where it issued consent decrees aimed at creating long-lasting changes in policing culture. The New Jersey State Police signed a consent decree in 1999 agreeing to changes designed to end racial profiling.

“This is a chance to change the future, and it’s imperative that the DOJ incorporate lessons learned from past consent decrees,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom. “Whether a police department transforms itself or regresses into old habits depends on the commitment of its monitors to turning it around permanently.”

The ACLU-NJ will continue to act as a resource for the Newark Police, offering insights on how to uphold civil liberties and civil rights while also protecting public safety. In 2012, under the leadership of Police Director Samuel DeMaio, the Newark Police Department worked with the ACLU-NJ to craft policies to protect the rights of members of the public to record police officers on duty. The policy, which mandates officer training concerning the public’s First Amendment rights, came as a result of the ACLU-NJ’s representation of Khaliah Fitchette, a Newark teenager pulled off a city bus and detained by police for using her cellphone to record video of officers responding to an incident.

In addition, in July, the Newark Police Department, in collaboration with the ACLU-NJ, adopted a data transparency policy requiring the department to release monthly data detailing the number of stop-and-frisks it conducts and the demographic information of the person being stopped, as well as information on the disposition of the stop. The policy also requires the department to report on the number of internal affairs complaints it receives and its use of force reports. Also in July, the ACLU-NJ and other immigrants’ rights advocates worked with the Newark Police Department to stop honoring voluntary immigration detainer requests, thus ensuring that immigrant communities in Newark may contact the police without fearing deportation.

The ACLU-NJ’s petition to the DOJ was compiled by former ACLU-NJ Senior Counsel Flavio Komuves.

A copy of the ACLU-NJ’s petition and more information about the ACLU-NJ’s work to improve police practices can be found at www.aclu-nj.org/policepractices.

Giving thanks for defenders of civil liberties

November 27, 2013
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For Thanksgiving, we want to share with you our gratitude for a few New Jersey public servants who have proved to be champions of civil liberties this year.

Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson and the NJ Supreme Court

Mary Jacobson

Mary Jacobson

In September, Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson made history with a decision declaring civil unions unconstitutional. Just a few weeks later, the NJ Supreme Court unanimously rejected Gov. Chris Christie's request to delay marriage equality. A few hours after the first marriages began at midnight on Oct. 21, Gov. Christie dropped his appeal. Judge Jacobson and the NJ Supreme Court – and, above all, the tireless advocates, especially Lambda Legal, Garden State Equality, and all of our partners in NJ United for Marriage – cleared the way for NJ to become the 14th state to recognize marriage equality.

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and State Senators Teresa Ruiz, Nellie Pou and Sandra Cunningham, primary sponsors of the NJ Senate's Tuition Equality Act

Teresa Ruiz

Teresa Ruiz

After years of community and student activism, tremendous credit goes to these legislators for leading the charge for tuition equality in the NJ Senate. If enacted, the Tuition Equality Act (S2479) will allow undocumented NJ high school students who meet certain requirements to qualify for in-state tuition and financial aid opportunities. Gov. Christie announced support for tuition equality on the campaign trail, but then backtracked, saying the Senate's version of the bill "goes too far." We will keep pushing to end discrimination in access to higher education in NJ this year.

Senator Cory Booker and Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio

Cory Booker

Cory Booker

Just before Cory Booker left Newark to become the state's newest U.S. Senator, he and Police Director Samuel DeMaio instituted two measures to increase safety and protect civil liberties. First, the Newark Police Department (NPD) now publishes data about its use of "stop-and-frisk" tactics each month. Second, the NPD stopped honoring "ICE holds" – warrantless requests from federal immigration authorities to hold people in custody. These new policies increase accountability, transparency, and public safety.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop

Steven Fulop

Steven Fulop

Mayor Fulop signed a city ordinance requiring certain Jersey City businesses to give paid sick leave to employees, the first such policy in NJ. The ACLU-NJ believes that a person can only fully exercise their rights when basic needs are met. This policy helps make Jersey City a place where civil liberties can thrive.

These are only a few of the NJ officials who have stood out this year for their commitment to civil liberties. Do you know a public official who has shown outstanding commitment to civil liberties in 2013? Share them on the ACLU-NJ's Facebook page.

Above all, we're grateful for you this Thanksgiving and every day. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the ACLU of New Jersey!

ACLU-NJ Welcomes First Set of Newark “Stop-and-Frisk” Data, Hopes Police’s Reports Will Go Further

August 15, 2013
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Newark Police Department issues July statistics for stop-and-frisk a month after issuing groundbreaking transparency directive

NEWARK – A month after the Newark Police Department adopted strong transparency standards regarding the tracking and reporting of “stop-and-frisk” statistics, the ACLU-NJ welcomes the first batch of data on the searches taking place in Newark and looks forward to future analysis. The reports offer valuable information, such as the number of stops per precinct and demographic information of those searched, yet they do not currently include detailed information about the reasons for stops or stops of Latinos.

ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer issues the following statement:

Udi Ofer

“The ACLU-NJ commends the Newark Police Department for issuing, for the first time in its history, public data on the use of stop-and-frisk in Newark. Stop-and-frisk is an intrusive practice that should be used carefully and only when there is reasonable suspicion of a crime. This data offers an important look at who is being stopped-and-frisked in our community and why. Given that we have only one month’s worth of data, it is too early to draw any conclusions from the data. We do look forward to working with the Police Director to fill in some of the gaps in the data, such as information on the impact of stop-and-frisk on Newark’s Latino community, the reasons behind the stops, and data on when stops lead to frisks and searches.”

ACLU-NJ Praises Newark’s Adoption of Stop-and-Frisk Transparency Policy

July 9, 2013
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Order requires documentation of police stops and regular public reporting of data

NEWARK – As debate concerning New York City’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy carries on, the city of Newark today issued one of the most comprehensive policies in the nation requiring the tracking and public reporting of the police department’s stop-and-frisk practices.

The Newark Police Department issued a general order, known as the “Police Transparency Policy,” requiring officers to document each stop regardless of the outcome, explain the reasons for the stop and the demographic information (including race, sex, age, and language proficiency) of the person being stopped, and note whether the person was frisked or whether force was used. Police will also be required to note whether the person stopped is a student.

A summary of the data collected by the officers will be released to the public on a monthly basis, allowing the public to determine whether the practice is administered judiciously. Concurrently, Newark Mayor Cory Booker introduced a resolution to the Municipal Council in support of the general order.

“Newark has taken an important step today in instituting greater transparency in policing practices, and in building the trust and confidence of the public in our police force,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “This new policy gives New Jerseyans a close look into how policing is administered in our largest city, and should serve as a model for the rest of the state and nation.”

Specifically, this new policy will require that the Newark Police Department:

  • Post statistics on its website every month detailing field inquiry reports, use of force reports, and internal affairs data.
  • Include in the field inquiry reports information on the number of stops, frisks and searches citywide by each police sector and a breakdown of the stops by race, gender, age, and limited English proficiency. The report must also include an explanation of the reason for the stop, and the number of individuals who received a summons or were arrested as a result of a stop in each police sector.
  • Include in its use of force reports the total number of incidents and a description of the force used.
  • Include in its internal affairs data the number of citizen and departmental complaints received, sustained, administratively closed, exonerated, not sustained, and unfounded. The advocate unit must also provide the number of hearings held, officers disciplined and types of discipline.

“With this policy in place, New Jerseyans will have a much clearer sense of who is stopped and for what reasons, and whether this tactic is being used against innocent people or in a discriminatory manner,” said Ofer. “The ACLU-NJ commends Mayor Booker, Police Director DeMaio, and the Newark Municipal Council for working together to institute this important policy.”

ACLU-NJ Statements on NYPD Surveillance and Tuition

June 17, 2013
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NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) is monitoring several pieces of legislation that are before the New Jersey Legislature today.

The following statements are from Udi Ofer, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, about those bills.

Udi Ofer

Reporting Requirements for Counter-Terrorism Investigations (Senate Bill No. 2311)

"For years, the NYPD conducted secret intelligence gathering activities in New Jersey targeted at Muslim community members who engaged in no wrongdoing. The New Jersey public was kept in the dark during these investigations, which targeted New Jersey residents based on their religious beliefs. Senate Bill No. 2311 will ensure that the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies will be unable to conduct their operations in our state without informing New Jersey law enforcement officials of their activities. While such a step is welcomed, it will not in-and-of-itself address the problem of NYPD operations in our state. At the very least, any bill that passes the state legislature should also include a requirement that the public be kept informed, in a manner that protects the integrity of legitimate law enforcement investigations, of any NYPD and other intelligence gathering operations in our state, particularly those operations that implicate First Amendment rights."

Tuition Equality Act (Assembly Bill No. 4225)

"The ACLU-NJ strongly supports the Tuition Equality Act. The time has come for New Jersey to end its unequal treatment of undocumented immigrants seeking to enroll in New Jersey’s colleges and universities. More than three decades ago, the United States Supreme Court, in Plyler v. Doe, held that undocumented students must be given equal access to a public school education. Yet in New Jersey today, undocumented students who graduate from our high schools and wish to attend our state colleges or universities are forced to pay much higher rates – in some cases more than twice as much – than their classmates for no other reason than their status as undocumented immigrants. This form of unequal access and unequal treatment must end. The New Jersey Legislature should ensure equal access to all students who call our state home, regardless of their immigration status, and pass A-4225."

ACLU Launches Nationwide Investigation into Police Use of Military Technology & Tactics

March 6, 2013
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Militarization of Local Law Enforcement Erodes Civil Liberties, Encourages Overly Aggressive Policing

Newark, NJ – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) and ACLU affiliates in 23 other states today simultaneously filed public records requests to determine the extent to which local police departments are using federally subsidized military technology and tactics that are traditionally used in American military settings overseas.

“Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color,” said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for ACLU’s Center for Justice. “We’ve seen examples of this in several localities, but we don’t know the dimensions of the problem.”

The ACLU of New Jersey filed two public records requests. The first request, filed with 16 local law enforcement agencies, seeks information on the use of:

  • SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) Teams, including:
    • Number and purpose of deployments
    • Types of weapons used during deployments
    • Injuries sustained by civilians during deployments
    • Funding sources
  • Cutting-edge weapons and technologies, including:
    • GPS tracking devices
    • Unmanned aerial vehicles (“drones”)
    • Augmented detainee restraint (“shock-cuffs”)
    • Military weaponry, equipment, and vehicles obtained from or funded by federal agencies such as the Departments of Defense and/or Homeland Security

The first request was filed with the following agencies:

  • New Jersey State Police
  • New Jersey Transit
  • Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Passaic County Sheriff’s Office
  • Essex County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Warren County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office
  • Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office
  • City of Newark
  • Jersey City
  • City of Camden
  • Atlantic City

The second request, filed with the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to obtain information about the New Jersey National Guard, seeks information regarding:

  • Cooperative agreements between local police departments and the National Guard counter-drug program
  • Incidents of National Guard contact with civilians

“New Jerseyans deserve to know how much our local police are using military weapons and tactics for everyday policing,” said Jeanne LoCicero, ACLU-NJ Deputy Legal Director. “The militarization of local police is a threat to Americans’ right to live without fear of military-style intervention in our daily lives, and we need to make sure these resources and tactics are deployed only with rigorous oversight and strong legal protections.”

Affiliates from Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Washington filed the public records requests. Once the information has been collected and analyzed, if needed, the ACLU will use the results to recommend changes in law and policy governing the use of military tactics and technology in local law enforcement.

For more information, visit www.aclu.org/militarization

ACLU-NJ Statement on Civilian Complaint Review Board in Newark

March 5, 2013
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NEWARK – Udi Ofer, the executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, welcomes the decision by Mayor Cory Booker to create a civilian complaint review board in Newark. Booker is expected to formally announce the plan at the “State of the City” address this evening.

“The ACLU-NJ is encouraged that Newark is considering a civilian complaint review board," said Ofer. “An effective civilian review board must have independent subpoena authority, the ability to discipline police officers who are found to engage in misconduct (after having been afforded a fair opportunity to contest the finding), a budget that is adequate to provide for effective investigations and that grows as the police force grows, a process that is open to the public, and a membership that is composed of individuals who have expertise in police practices and civil rights law.

“In other words, an effective civilian review board must have real power, real transparency, and real funding to be able to provide for real accountability,” Ofer said. “We look forward to working with Mayor Booker, the City Council, and Police Director DeMaio to bring the best model to Newark.”

ACLU-NJ Report Reveals Persistent Problems in Internal Affairs Statewide

February 12, 2013
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AG’s office takes significant steps to improve practices in response to report

NEWARK – The average citizen filing an internal affairs complaint against a local police officer over the phone in New Jersey will most likely encounter hostility, misinformation or other obstacles from local law enforcement employees, according to a report released today by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ).

The report, “The Crisis Continues Inside Police Internal Affairs,” summarizes the responses that 497 departments in New Jersey provided to ACLU-NJ volunteers who called inquiring about how to file a complaint. The study revealed that more than three-quarters of police departments were unable to provide answers or provided wrong answers regarding the basic rules surrounding access to internal affairs.

“When citizens are given wrong information or are dissuaded from filing internal affairs complaints with a police department, it gives them no faith that the same department will conduct thorough and fair investigations into allegations of officer misconduct,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom, the primary author of the report. “And it is hard for citizens to have faith in police departments that cannot police themselves.”

In response to receiving an early draft of this report, the state Attorney General’s office proposed several important initiatives. The AG’s office has proposed an online training course teaching law enforcement best practices regarding IA and a quick reference guide for employees to keep by the phone when responding to IA inquiries.

“The ACLU-NJ applauds the steps taken by the Attorney General in response to our report, as they will help to ensure citizens have access to the internal affairs process,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Ed Barocas. “Municipal police departments must now follow the Attorney General’s lead.”

Several county prosecutors have contacted the ACLU-NJ to express their concern with the study’s results and are recommitting efforts to ensure that citizens can file internal affairs complaints without unlawful hurdles at police departments within their counties.

To gather the data, ACLU-NJ volunteers called 497 local and specialized departments statewide. The volunteers made it clear that they were not filing a complaint themselves, but seeking information on whether they could file a complaint anonymously, by phone, as a juvenile without a parent present or as a third-party. They also asked if immigration officials would be contacted if an undocumented person wanted to file a complaint. New Jersey allows for complaints to be filed under any of those conditions.

However, more than half of the departments the volunteers made contact with provided at least one incorrect answer to the questions. Many of the volunteers reported they would have given up had they been seeking information to file a complaint themselves. In one instance, an officer in a Hudson County police department stopped speaking and refused to answer basic questions because the volunteer would not give his name. In another instance, an officer in a Middlesex County police department said if the complainant is an “illegal alien, I don’t know if he should be running around making complaints.” Audio clips of 20 responses from police are embedded in the report, which is available on the ACLU-NJ’s website, www.aclu-nj.org

Only three counties – Cumberland, Morris and Salem – had a majority of their departments provide correct answers, as well as New Jersey Transit Police, which earned a perfect score. One officer in a Morris County police department embraced the spirit of the state’s IA laws concerning immigration when he said, “If there is a language barrier, we will make accommodations to hear [his complaint] in his native language.”

In 2009, the ACLU-NJ issued a similar report, which also concluded that most departments in New Jersey violated the law when accepting complaints from citizens. Following that study, some departments reached out to the ACLU-NJ to discuss the results, hoping to provide better training to their staff. The departments the ACLU-NJ spoke to following the 2009 study did better as a group in this round of research than those who did not reach out for help.

The ACLU-NJ recognized then, as it does now, that the problems lie mainly in the police personnel who interact with the public most often. Although they are responsible for providing information about IA complaints, many do not know the correct IA policies.

Therefore, in addition to the recent steps the OAG has taken, the ACLU-NJ also recommends the OAG mandate procedures for police departments to provide the public with information about filing IA complaints, automate department phone directories to provide clear information about how to file IA complaints, and regularly subject themselves to tests that make sure they comply with the law.

The ACLU-NJ has produced a roll call training video educating police departments about the best way to respond to IA complaints and issued a quick reference guide for police departments to keep by their phones to help employees respond properly to IA inquiries.

Newark Police Settles Lawsuit Over the Arrest of Teen with Cellphone Video

November 19, 2012
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Newark will train officers on new policy that affirms citizens’ rights to videotape officers on duty

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ), Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Social Justice (CSJ) and the City of Newark have reached a successful settlement in the case of Khaliah Fitchette, a Newark teenager who was illegally detained by police for using her cellphone to record an incident on a public bus in March 2010.

In addition to the settlement, Police Director Samuel A. DeMaio has issued a training memorandum that affirms the rights of citizens to record police officers performing their duties and makes clear that officers cannot confiscate, delete, or demand to view a citizen’s photos or video without a warrant. The memorandum was issued in November 2011, as Fitchette’s lawsuit was pending.

The department will train officers on the new policy.

“We are pleased that the Newark Police Department has adopted a policy that clearly articulates and respects the constitutional rights of citizens to record police activity,” said Seton Hall Law Professor Barbara Moses, who, along with a number of Seton Hall Law students, represented Fitchette as a cooperating attorney for the ACLU-NJ. “We hope this policy prevents incidents like the one involving Khaliah Fitchette from ever happening again.”

Alexander Shalom, Policy Counsel for the ACLU-NJ, said other departments should follow Newark’s lead.

“With video technology so prevalent now, police officers have to clearly understand exactly what rights citizens have when they film in public,” said Shalom. “Newark’s policy makes clear distinctions about citizens’ rights, and every law enforcement department in New Jersey should adopt these kinds of guidelines.”

Fitchette, who was a high school honors student when she was arrested by police, said she hopes her case educates the public about their rights when it comes to recording police.

“I’m glad this is resolved and I can put this behind me,” said Fitchette, who is now a sophomore at Cornell University. “It’s important for everyone to know their rights, especially since most people now have cellphones with video capabilities.”

Fitchette was riding a public bus through downtown Newark after school on the afternoon of March 22, 2010. When the bus rolled down a hill, a seemingly intoxicated man fell from his seat and into the aisle, creating a scene. The driver pulled over and called Newark Police for assistance. Fitchette, who habitually used her phone to record or take photographs, began recording the incident. When the police arrived, an officer ordered Fitchette to stop recording and turn off the phone.

Fitchette stopped recording, but refused to turn off the phone to avoid missing any calls from her mom. The officer grabbed Fitchette by the arm and pulled her off the bus. One officer seized her phone and deleted the video. The police handcuffed and detained Fitchette for more than an hour, ignoring her pleas to call her mother. They finally dropped a tearful Fitchette at her mother’s workplace.

The ACLU-NJ and CSJ filed a lawsuit on Fitchette’s behalf on March 28, 2010, alleging the officers violated her constitutional rights to free expression. The lawsuit also alleged the search and seizure of Fitchette’s phone was illegal.

Recognizing the importance of taping police officers in public, the ACLU has challenged illegal police confiscations of cameras, which has become more prevalent across the country, including in New Jersey.

In July, the ACLU-NJ released a new smartphone application, “Police Tape,” which allows people to record and store interactions with police securely and discreetly. The app is available for free on Androids and iPhones.