ACLU-NJ Releases Apple Version of Police Accountability Smartphone App

September 26, 2012
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‘Police Tape’ app for recording law enforcement encounters now available for both Apple and Android devices

NEWARK – New Jersey residents with Apple devices can now hold police accountable in the palms of their hands, with a newly released Apple version of “Police Tape,” a smartphone application from the ACLU of New Jersey. A version for Android was released in July. Police Tape allows people to securely and discreetly record and store interactions with police, as well as better understand their rights during police interactions. Thanks to the generosity of app developer OpenWatch, the ACLU-NJ is providing Police Tape to the public free of charge.

“This app provides an essential tool for police accountability,” said acting ACLU-NJ Executive Director Ed Barocas. “Too often incidents of serious misconduct go unreported because citizens don’t feel that they will be believed. Here, the technology empowers citizens to place a check on police power directly.”

The iOS “Police Tape” app, which works on iPhone and iPad devices, records audio discreetly, disappearing from the screen once the recording begins, which prevents any attempts by police to squelch the recording. In addition to keeping a copy of the audio recording on the phone, the user can choose to send it to the ACLU-NJ for backup storage and analysis of possible civil liberties violations.

More than 35,000 people have downloaded the Police Tape app since it was released in July. The app is intended for use in New Jersey where the law allows citizens to record the actions of police officers in public, even without their knowledge.

The popularity of cellphones with recording capabilities has raised legal questions about the rights of citizens to record in public. Fortunately, the courts have sided with citizens. In May 2012, a federal appeals court struck down an Illinois law that had made it illegal for citizens to record police officers on-duty. Also in May 2012, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice released a letter affirming the constitutional right to record the police in public. These two developments came on the heels of a landmark ruling in August 2011, which recognized the right of citizens to record police officers after a Massachusetts man in Boston Common was wrongfully arrested for filming an interaction with a police officer.

“In some instances members of the public who challenge authority figures fear that their retelling of events will not be believed,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom. “This app helps allay those fears. Firsthand documentation is critical to ensuring police accountability, and it reminds police that the eyes and ears of the public are on them at all times.”

The “Police Tape” app is available for download at http://www.aclu-nj.org/yourrights/the-app-place/. A how-to video created by the ACLU-NJ shows Lady Liberty as she goes through each step of the app as she records and uploads her own run-in with police. The New York Civil Liberties Union released a similar, New York City-specific app to target “stop and frisk” searches by the New York Police Department in early June.

ACLU-NJ Releases Police Accountability Smartphone App for Summer Beach Season

July 3, 2012
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Android app allows citizens to record and store video and audio of police encounters, includes guide to citizens’ rights

NEWARK – Citizens can hold police accountable in the palms of their hands with “Police Tape,” a smartphone application from the ACLU of New Jersey that allows people to securely and discreetly record and store interactions with police, as well as provide legal information about citizens’ rights when interacting with the police. Thanks to the generosity of app developer OpenWatch, the ACLU-NJ is providing Police Tape to the public free of charge.

“This app provides an essential tool for police accountability,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “Too often incidents of serious misconduct go unreported because citizens don’t feel that they will be believed. Here, the technology empowers citizens to place a check on police power directly.” In light of the frequency of altercations between citizens and seasonal police at the shore, the ACLU-NJ released the App in time for the July 4th holiday.

The Android “Police Tape” app records video and audio discreetly, disappearing from the screen once the recording begins to prevent any attempt by police to squelch the recording. In addition to keeping a copy on the phone itself, the user can choose to send it to the ACLU-NJ for backup storage and analysis of possible civil liberties violations.

A version awaiting approval from Apple will be available later this summer in the App Store for iOs to audio record encounters with police.

The popularity of cellphones with video capabilities has raised legal questions about the rights of citizens to record in public. Fortunately, the courts have sided with citizens. In May 2012, a federal appeals court struck down an Illinois law that had made it illegal for citizens to record police officers on-duty. Also in May 2012, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice released a letter affirming the constitutional rights to record the police in public. These two developments came on the heels of a landmark ruling in August 2011, which recognized the right of citizens to record police officers after a Massachusetts man in Boston Common was wrongfully arrested for filming an interaction with a police officer.

“Historically, vivid images of police mistreating citizens have seared our public consciousness and in some cases spurred important changes,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom. “Photos and video are critical to ensuring police accountability and police should know that the eyes of the public are on them at all times.”

The “Police Tape” app is available for download at http://www.aclu-nj.org/yourrights/the-app-place/. A how-to video created by the ACLU-NJ shows Lady Liberty as she goes through each step of the app as she records and uploads her own run-in with police. The New York Civil Liberties Union released a similar, New York City-specific app to target “stop and frisk” searches by the New York Police Department in early June.

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ACLU Provides NJ police with New Roll Call Training on Internal Affairs

April 24, 2012
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Roll call training features local cops, describes best internal affairs practices

internal affairs

NEWARK – Three years after identifying a statewide crisis in New Jersey police departments’ internal affairs practices, the ACLU-NJ has released a roll call training video that explains best practices and guidelines for officers who receive internal affairs complaints. The video, which exclusively features New Jersey law enforcement professionals, is based on the state Attorney General’s statewide guidelines on internal affairs and provides a much-needed tool for training officers.

This training video is for law enforcement, coming from law enforcement,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “In 2009, an ACLU-NJ report showed that 80 percent of local police departments provided inaccurate information about how to file an internal affairs complaint. Officers hadn’t received sufficient training, and we’re trying to help bridge that gap. The first interaction a citizen has when inquiring about filing a complaint against a police officer can set the tone for the entire investigation, and it has sometimes deterred citizens from filing complaints.”

The five-minute long video is intended for officers to view at roll call and to reach all levels of personnel. With the exception of officers working directly in internal affairs, most officers receive minimal training on how to handle internal affairs complaints. The training features four leaders of New Jersey law enforcement, who discuss the importance of internal affairs and the proper handling of incoming complaints:

  • Chief James Abbott, West Orange Police Department
  • Director Samuel DeMaio, Newark Police Department
  • Chief Bryan Gurney, Ramsey Police Department, and President of the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association
  • Captain Quovella Spruill, Essex County Prosecutor’s Office

The ACLU-NJ has provided the film at no cost to the New Jersey State Chiefs of Police Association, as well as to the New Jersey County Prosecutors Association, with the request that it be shown to all personnel. Essex County has decided to use the film at county-wide trainings of law enforcement officials.

“The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office actively participated in the making of this video because we want to ensure that all county law enforcement personnel have the information they need to correctly handle any complaints of police misconduct.” said Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray. “Ultimately, our job is to bring justice to victims. To do that, we need the community to trust us. Any interactions that undermine community trust hurts our ability to serve and protect the public and misrepresents the majority of officers who do their jobs in an honest and honorable way. We believe this video highlights best internal affairs practices.’’

The video offers a refresher on the various ways citizens can file a complaint against an officer: in person, by telephone, anonymously, through email, by third party, and with any necessary assistance with language or disabilities. It also discusses who can make a complaint, including juveniles without their parents and immigrants (regardless of their documentation or status). It also covers the benefits of a robust internal affairs unit not only to citizens, but to law enforcement personnel.

“We have to be able to police ourselves, because we don’t want anyone tarnishing our badge,” said Ramsey Police Chief Bryan Gurney, explaining why internal affairs operations are so crucial to effective policing. “The days of just being able to sweep things under the rug are way over.”

On March 16, 2012, the ACLU-NJ previewed the film for an audience of approximately 75 officers who were members of the New Jersey Internal Affairs Association. It was well-received and resulted in requests to show it in individual departments.

This new video is one of several ACLU-NJ initiatives that promote better internal affairs practices. After the ACLU-NJ’s 2009 survey, the ACLU-NJ promoted the use of a resource for police departments to use as phone-side “cheat sheets” that detail the requirements for all personnel if a citizen wishes to report a complaint against an officer (created by Chief R. Brett Matheis of the Clinton Police Department). In 2010, the ACLU-NJ requested an Office of Attorney General review of internal affairs policies, statistics-keeping and oversight. That review resulted in a number of improvements to the statewide policy and requirements for greater oversight.

“If internal affairs does a poor job of taking complaints from citizens, it has an adverse effect on the entire department,” said Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio during an interview featured in the video. “The department is here to serve the community, and the community has to have a trust in the agency.”

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Gov. Christie Earns Mixed Marks on Civil Liberties During His First Two Years

January 24, 2012
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ACLU-NJ examines Christie’s record on respecting rights

education

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) released a midterm report card for Gov. Chris Christie today (182k PDF), issuing mostly low marks for his administration’s handling of critical civil liberties issues such as reproductive freedom and free speech.

The report card examines Christie’s record on an array of civil liberties issues during his first two years in office. The ACLU-NJ issued a similar report card for Newark Mayor Cory Booker (229k PDF) in 2009 during his first term in office.

“Christie has two years to turn a mediocre civil liberties record into a testament to individual rights,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “The people of New Jersey expect a leader who will stand up for their freedoms, not one who will let them know that despite his unfair policies, his heart is in the right place. It’s time for Gov. Christie’s good intentions to turn into policies that strengthen our rights and improve our lives.”

The ACLU-NJ issued the following grades:

  • B in Freedom of Religion. Gov. Christie made headlines several times in his first term for defending the religious freedom of Muslims and warning against extremists trying to promote discrimination against Islam.

  • F in Freedom of Speech. When provided the opportunity to speak up for our nation’s most fundamental value, the Governor stood idly by, letting the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs trample the rights of Occupy Trenton, and going so far as to endorse the termination of a NJ Transit employee fired for exercising his right to free expression.

  • B- in LGBT Rights. Although the Governor has spoken out against bullying and supported some interests of the LGBT community, he has turned his back on marriage equality for same-sex couples.

  • D in Open Government. Although the Governor signed a bill that lowers the cost of copies in New Jersey, his administration has put itself on the wrong side of open government disputes numerous times, allowing agencies to hide public documents and forcing citizens to go to court to get them.

  • C in Police Practices. Improvements made by the Office of Attorney General (OAG) to its statewide police Internal Affairs policies were a step forward, but the OAG has failed to address other important issues, such as developing a statewide policy on the use of confidential informants.

  • C in Privacy Rights. The governor conditionally vetoed a bill that sought to open adoption records, taking into account the privacy rights of birth parents. At the same time, he signed into a law a bill that allows police to collect DNA of people once they have been arrested in violation of privacy and due process rights.

  • F in Reproductive Rights. Not only did the governor cut $7.5 million from the budget for family planning centers, but he also withdrew an application for a federal program that would have covered family planning expenses for some of New Jersey’s most vulnerable women and children.

  • D in Separation of Powers. The Governor refused to reappoint New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John J. Wallace, Jr., calling into question the tradition of evaluating judges based on merits, and personally attacked a Superior Court judge because he disagreed with the outcome of her ruling. Gov. Christie’s actions threaten to undermine the judiciary’s independence and credibility.

Attorney General takes step backwards on police Internal Affairs tracking

December 21, 2011
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ACLU implores Dow to suspend use of faulty new form

NEWARK – The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey condemned the decision of New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow to implement use of a new form that makes it more difficult for law enforcement officials and the public to track police misconduct investigations.

“We have done everything we can to stop the Attorney General from releasing this poor revision of the New Jersey Internal Affairs statistics form,” said Deborah Jacobs, ACLU-NJ executive director. “After all the negative attention the state and major cities have received for abusive police practices, it’s dismaying that the AG would implement a revised tracking system that is worse than the original.”

At issue is how annual statistics on Internal Affairs complaints and dispositions are submitted to the counties and state, and available to the public through the Open Public Records Act. The ACLU-NJ wants systems to ensure that every citizen complaint is properly investigated, tracked and reported.

For several years the ACLU-NJ has pointed out to the Attorney General (420k PDF) and other high-ranking law enforcement officials that thousands of ongoing Internal Affairs cases were dropped from statistical records because police departments failed to report them in a statistics form provided by the AG’s office. To complete the form properly, officials must note the number of complaints pending at the end of one year, and carry them over as pending into the next year. However, over the last decade a multitude of departments failed to carry the pending cases over, resulting in unknown outcomes for thousands of cases throughout the state over a multi-year period. (650k PDF)

The problem was highlighted in the ACLU-NJ’s 2008 report, “The Crisis Inside Internal Affairs” (1.2mb PDF) and in the ACLU-NJ’s petition to the Department of Justice to investigate the Newark Police, as well as in a Star Ledger article about it.

In 2011, the Attorney General formed a working group to examine this and other issues raised by the ACLU-NJ concerning the Internal Affairs policy. It announced revisions on May 6, 2011, and finally released it with attachments on the Attorney General’s website yesterday. The revisions – many of which the ACLU-NJ supported – included changes to the statistical form. However, instead of insisting that police departments properly carry pending cases over – just as they do with Uniform Crime Reports – the revised policy simply eliminated the pending column, thus making it impossible for chiefs, county prosecutors, the Attorney General or outside advocates to get a full understanding of internal affairs operations in each department.

On September 7, 2011, the ACLU-NJ wrote to Phillip Kwon (1.4mb PDF), First Assistant Attorney General, to explain the problem and ask that the form be changed prior to its release. The ACLU-NJ proposed another option that would allow the AG to streamline the form while maintaining critical information, like the pending columns. The AG’s office did not respond to the letter, nor phone calls and emails to Dermot O’Grady, Deputy Director of the Division of Criminal Justice, who oversaw the revisions.

Yesterday the Attorney General posted its new version of the form online (2.3mb PDF), thus making the new, inferior form official despite the fact that it provides less information to both police and citizens.

“In a climate where police practices in New Jersey are under scrutiny not only by concerned citizens, but also the Department of Justice, it’s unacceptable for the Attorney General’s office to lead us backwards into failed record-keeping.” said Jacobs.

The ACLU-NJ sent another letter to the Attorney General today (144k PDF), objecting to the form and imploring her to suspend its use before she leaves office.

ACLU-NJ Releases Toolkit to Guide Residents in Investigating their Local Police Departments

September 9, 2011
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Step-by-step guide will aid New Jerseyans in assessing and documenting the treatment of citizens by police in their towns

police toolkit:

NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) today released a guide that offers citizens tips on how to investigate their local police departments and hold them accountable to the public. The guide, released exactly one year after the ACLU-NJ submitted a petition asking for the Department of Justice to investigate the Newark Police Department, includes many of the same steps the ACLU-NJ took in compiling its petition.

"The ACLU gets police misconduct complaints from all over the state, but we don't have the resources to help everyone," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs, "This toolkit empowers citizens and give them the tools to hold government accountable."

The 21-page toolkit teaches citizens where to find public records, how to file open records requests and what to look for in documents, such as lawsuits, settlements and contracts. The guide also provides a primer on analyzing and understanding crime statistics at a local and state level.

"It can be difficult to get information about what happens in your own back yard, let alone information that allows citizens to credibly hold government officials accountable," said ACLU-NJ cooperating attorney Flavio Komuves, who authored the toolkit. "Knowing how to gather and interpret this information puts democracy directly in the people's hands."

The ACLU-NJ's use of public information last year helped convince the Department of Justice to begin an investigation into a pattern and practice of civil rights abuses in the Newark Police Department.

The ACLU-NJ actively promotes government transparency through its Open Governance Project, which both advocates for citizens denied access to public records and meetings, and uses open government laws to gather information to assess civil liberties problems. For example, open government work laid the foundation for ACLU-NJ reports on police internal affairs practices and access to education, which resulted in changes to policy and practices to respect individual rights.

Police Toolkit

Both toolkits below are identical except one is in black and white (for easier printing) and the other is in color. The toolkits are in PDF format and are each less than 1.5mb in size.

Appeals Court Rules Newark Journalist Who was Wrongfully Arrested by Police is Entitled to Damages

July 19, 2011
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Newark Police violated Roberto Lima's First Amendment rights

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Roberto Lima & Baher Azmy

NEWARK — The United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling today holding that Newark journalist Roberto Lima is entitled to the entire amount of a monetary offer made by the City of Newark in a case stemming from his wrongful arrest in 2007, and that his attorneys are also entitled to now seek fees in addition to those monetary damages.

"The actions taken by Newark Police that day were a clear violation of Mr. Lima's First Amendment rights as a journalist," said Seton Hall Law School professor Baher Azmy, who served as a cooperating attorney for the ACLU-NJ. "Police cannot arrest innocent journalists to suppress stories that they may not like or may embarrass them."

Lima, the editor of the Brazilian Voice newspaper, was held by police in September 2007 after a photographer discovered and photographed a decomposed body covered by debris in the Ironbound section of Newark. The photographer notified Lima about the discovery, and Lima thereafter notified the police. After arriving at the scene, officers intimidated Lima, seized his camera and ordered him to turn over all copies of the photographs including originals. The officers at the scene were led by Samuel DeMaio, who was a deputy chief at the time. DeMaio currently serves as acting director of the Newark Police Department.

DeMaio ordered Lima not to publish the photos and told officers to physically seize his camera. While at the scene, DeMaio also demanded that the photographer disclose his immigration status, a demand for which DeMaio was later reprimanded by the state Attorney General's office which has banned any law enforcement official from inquiring about the immigration status of a crime witness or victim.

After Lima voluntarily gave a statement at the police station, he was handcuffed to a bench until he agreed to turn over all originals and copies of the photographs.

Lima expressed relief at the court's ruling. "I hope that the Newark Police has learned its lesson and trained its officers so that no journalist or citizen is ever bullied, intimidated or harassed the way I was," Lima said. "This case was about standing up for my constitutional rights as well as the rights of others - especially journalists."

Before filing suit in January 2008, Lima and his attorneys from the ACLU-NJ and the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice attempted to settle the matter, but the city refused.

In November 2009, the City of Newark made a formal "Offer of Judgment" to pay Lima $55,000 for the plaintiff's claims for relief against the city. But when Lima's attorneys filed an application for attorney's fees, the city balked and said the $55,000 offer included attorney's fees. The Court of Appeals today determined that Lima was entitled to the entire $55,000 as damages, and said a separate petition for attorney's fees can be filed.

"We wish it did not have to come to this," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "If the city had acknowledged its officers' unconstitutional conduct and taken expedient steps to retrain officers, we never would have had to go to court. Now we can only hope that the city takes steps to ensure this never happens again."

Lima's case was also one of hundreds of allegations in the ACLU-NJ's 2010 petition to the Department of Justice asking it to investigate the Newark Police for civil rights violations.

ACLU-NJ Welcomes Changes to Attorney General’s Policy on Internal Affairs Complaints

July 6, 2011
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Revised policy goes into effect for all law enforcement agencies today

NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) welcomes the state’s revised internal affairs policy, which requires more accountability for police departments in dealing with complaints against police officers. The changes were announced by Attorney General Paula Dow in May and go into effect today.

The ACLU-NJ has been calling for greater oversight into how departments handle internal affairs complaints for years and worked with the attorney general to reshape the policy. This is the first time the policy has been revised since 2000.

"Policing. more than any other profession, depends on public trust to succeed," said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU-NJ. "Accountability and transparency are central to an internal affairs system in which the public has faith. We are pleased that Attorney General Dow has taken steps to improve that relationship with the public."

In 2009, the ACLU-NJ surveyed more than 500 police departments statewide to see if they complied with the state's guidelines on handling complaints against officers. The ACLU-NJ called police departments to ask how a person could file a complaint; analyzed police internal affairs statistics from around the state and reviewed 50 internal affairs files from individuals who filed complaints. The results of its survey, "The Crisis Inside Police Internal Affairs," revealed that most police departments violated state policy on internal affairs by insisting that complaints be filed in person and refusing to accept anonymous complaints. It also revealed that getting a live person on the phone to take the complaint was difficult.

The ACLU-NJ commends the following changes to the state internal affairs policy:

  • A requirement that agencies evaluate complaints to determine whether patterns, practices or trends of inappropriate behavior or conduct are developing in the agency. Under this new policy, data will not simply be collected — it will also be analyzed, which is important in identifying problematic officers or department policies.
  • If a complaint against an officer is not sustained, the agency is required to send the complainant a letter with a brief explanation of why it was not sustained.
  • Every law enforcement agency is required to notify the prosecutor's office when the agency has reason to question an officer's credibility based on a false report a pending court complaint, a court conviction, or a judicial finding.

These changes come on the tail of the Attorney General's decision, in September 2010, to investigate the extent to which police departments’ recordkeeping practices led to hundreds of internal affairs statistics being "dropped" in annual record keeping and reporting. The ACLU-NJ first revealed the record-keeping problems in its 2009 report, "The Crisis Inside Police Internal Affairs."

While these changes will contribute to better internal affairs systems, more is needed in the interest of transparency. For example, the state requires law enforcement agencies to periodically make public a synopsis of all complaints that result in a fine or suspension of 10 days or more, but it fails to require that the synopsis include the identity of the officer or the complainant.

The ACLU-NJ believes the names of all officers should be released and that all information about all records of discipline should be made public.

The ACLU-NJ plans to continue monitoring internal affairs operations in New Jersey and working with towns and counties to improve practices.

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Confidential informant study reveals weaknesses in New Jersey police practices

June 27, 2011
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Research led three counties to begin undertaking policy changes,
adding to ACLU-NJ's efforts to reform NJ's criminal justice system

NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project have released a study today that examines the use of confidential informants in the state of New Jersey. The study, authored by John Jay College of Criminal Justice faculty, revealed inconsistent policies governing the use of confidential informants at all levels of government, which have led to violations of informants' rights and compromises in the integrity of criminal investigations.

"Because the practice of using informants in criminal investigations has such a long history with support from state laws and judicial decisions, we were surprised to find that the policy governing informant use in the state is so disorganized," said Professor Delores Jones-Brown, co-author of the report and a former Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor. "Though our sample size was small, it was disturbing to find that half of the officers surveyed were unclear about the requirements for the proper use of informants."

Police departments across the country have come to rely on informants as a primary way to pursue drug investigations, but their improper use has led to serious problems. After seeing the sometimes-tragic outcomes in other states, including the deaths of innocent people, the ACLU-NJ in 2007 began to look into New Jersey's handling of informants, a group frequently utilized in law enforcement but rarely reported on in larger society. In some of those national cases, confidential informants gave false information under pressure, resulting in police busts of innocent people with guns drawn, sometimes with tragic results such as in the case of Kathryn Johnson, an elderly woman who was shot by an undercover officer in a botched drug raid in Georgia. In other instances, they lead to wrongful arrests, such as the arrest of 38 people in Tulia, Texas, who were rounded up for drug offenses based on information from a confidential informant. In other past cases, police departments have sent confidential informants into dangerous situations they never would have encountered otherwise, such as in the case of Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old who was murdered while serving as an informant in Florida.

The report analyzed information and perspectives provided by both law enforcement and citizens, shedding light for the first time on how New Jersey law enforcement agencies use confidential informants. In most cases, people become confidential informants when law enforcement agents offer to reduce their charges or sentences in exchange for assistance with other criminal investigations. However, without proper regulation, the nature of their relationships can lead to an array of problems including ethical violations, botched prosecutions, civil liberties violations and even loss of life.

The researchers discovered that some departments throughout New Jersey failed to put agreements in writing, circumvented search warrant requirements, used juveniles improperly, and insufficiently checked the reliability of information given by confidential informants, who can be motivated by financial incentives or fear of prosecution, among other reasons, to fabricate information. Worse, many departments reported their belief that no policies existed, including the mandatory protocols issued by the Attorney General. Other departments believed they were merely advisory.

In Lower Township, Cape May County, the mishandling of confidential informants resulted in two waves of case dismissals since research for the study began. In a 2010 Sussex County case, an informant fabricated evidence (giving police crushed drywall and claiming it was cocaine he bought from local dealers), with devastating consequences for those falsely accused of selling drugs.

The study's authors, Dr. Jones-Brown and Dr. Jon Shane, who is also a retired Newark Police Department captain, issued recommendations to create uniform policies at all levels and to thoroughly train officers and prosecutors. Under those recommendations, law enforcement agencies should always receive prosecutors' approval before using a confidential informant (who must be registered with the state), have written and signed agreements between law enforcement and the confidential informant, institute processes to approve or deny the use of informants, develop a protocol for establishing an informant's reliability, strictly limit the use of minors, impose strict recordkeeping rules, and, above all, train officers regularly.

In response to the report, at least three New Jersey counties - Morris, Salem and Cumberland - have already begun to reform their policies, starting after their review of an early draft.

"We couldn't be happier to see some of the changes taking place in these counties," said Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director for the ACLU of New Jersey. "We hope to work collaboratively with more counties, and the Attorney General, to see New Jersey adopt the most professional and effective practices for dealing with confidential informants."

The report is the latest ACLU-NJ examination of law enforcement conduct in the state. In May, eight months after the ACLU-NJ petitioned the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of systemic abuse by the Newark Police Department, the federal agency launched a probe into the department. Just days before that announcement, New Jersey Attorney General Paula Dow announced new reforms to the state's internal affairs policy based on the ACLU-NJ's recommendations, which will go into effect in July.

The ACLU-NJ's report on confidential informants can be found online, as well as more information relating to reforms of police in Newark, in Camden and the rest of the state.

ACLU Welcomes Decision to Investigate Newark Police Department

May 9, 2011
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NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) welcomed the announcement today that the U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the Newark Police Department’s reported patterns of abuse and misconduct. The Department of Justice’s decision to intervene was done so at the request of the ACLU-NJ, which documented the incidents of abuse in a petition filed in September 2010.

“We hope this investigation marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Newark Police Department,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. “The recurrent problems in the Newark Police did not arise from one individual, or even a group of individuals, but from an inherited institutional culture of misconduct. We hope the Justice Department’s intervention promises a fresh start, with individual officers getting the training they need to renew the faith in police that Newark’s citizens need.”

The ACLU-NJ’s petition cited 418 serious, routine civil rights violations reported by citizens in a two-and-a-half year period, including false arrests, inconsistent discipline of officers, discrimination and, most egregiously, acts of violence against citizens, some of which resulted in injury and death.

In the face of these civil rights violations, the department’s deficient Internal Affairs Unit provided citizens with little recourse. Out of the 261 internal affairs complaints filed reporting serious police misconduct between 2008 and 2009, only one – alleging an improper search – was sustained. The ACLU-NJ documented police officer’s retaliation and threats to citizens making an internal affairs complaint, as well as discouragement from making complaints altogether.

After looking into the petition’s claims, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division determined the situation in the Newark Police Department called for its involvement, based on a 1994 law allowing the Justice Department to intervene if a police department demonstrates a “pattern or practice” of violating the law or citizens’ constitutional rights.

The ACLU-NJ hopes the federal government will provide the initial oversight and guidance for the Newark Police Department to establish real reform, including an overhaul of internal affairs, more training for police officers, and new systems to identify and discipline problematic officers.

“The federal government has brought progress before to police departments struggling to break free of ingrained institutional acceptance of civil rights abuses,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Alexander Shalom. “We hope the Newark Police Department becomes another success story, built on a foundation of its renewed commitment to justice and equality.”

The ACLU-NJ has offered itself as a resource to the Department of Justice in the next stages of the investigative process, redoubling its own commitment to increasing accountability for the Newark Police and rebuilding the public’s trust in law enforcement.

The ACLU-NJ currently has two active civil rights cases pending against the Newark Police, one defending a newspaper publisher’s freedom of the press and the other defending a high school honor student's right to videotape the police in public.