ACLU-NJ Calls on AG to Investigate Bloomfield and Require Data Collection, Transparency for All NJ Departments

NEWARK - Following a new report from Seton Hall that reveals racial disparities in policing, the ACLU-NJ repeated a call on the New Jersey Attorney General to institute statewide standards for police departments, especially with regard to data collection on police activity. The Seton Hall University School of Law Center for Policy & Research’s report, called “Racial Profiling Report: Bloomfield Police and Bloomfield Municipal Court,” showed that Blacks and Latinos received tickets at much higher rates than they represent in both Bloomfield or New Jersey as a whole.

The Seton Hall report’s findings are consistent with those of an ACLU-NJ report issued in January documenting racial disparities in enforcement of low-level offenses in four New Jersey cities — Elizabeth, Jersey City, Millville and New Brunswick.

“The findings of the Seton Hall Center for Policy & Research’s report are deeply troubling,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “Their thorough analysis indicates the existence of extreme racial disparities in the policing and ticketing of Blacks and Latinos by the Bloomfield Police Department.”

The Seton Hall analysis found, among other disturbing revelations, that while Bloomfield’s population is 60 percent White, Blacks and Latinos make up 78 percent of court appearances in Bloomfield Municipal Court. Nearly 84 percent of tickets issued in Bloomfield are issued in the geographic lower third of Bloomfield, which borders Newark and East Orange — communities predominantly made up of people of color. This analysis indicates that Blacks and Latinos are being dramatically over-policed in Bloomfield, and they are paying a price for it: Blacks and Latinos paid more than $1 million to the Bloomfield Municipal Court between September 2014 and August 2015.

“Unfortunately, once again evidence has emerged confirming that Blacks and Latinos in New Jersey municipalities disproportionately bear the brunt of the enforcement of low-level offenses,” said Rosmarin. “How many more advocacy reports, law school studies, media exposes, or instances of community outcry will it take before New Jersey policymakers take this problem seriously and take steps to root out racial profiling in New Jersey police departments? We have no doubt similar findings could emerge in countless other municipalities throughout the state.”

In light of the Seton Hall findings about Bloomfield, the New Jersey Attorney General should immediately:

  • Investigate the Bloomfield Police Department’s policing policies and practices for racial bias and disparate impact and take remedial steps to eliminate such bias and disparities, including anti-bias training among other measures.
  • Investigate Bloomfield Municipal Court practices in light of the recent “Dear Colleague” letter issued by the U.S. Department of Justice warning of unconstitutional practices relating to the collection of fines and fees in local courts. Indeed, as the letter indicates, if the Bloomfield Municipal Court receives federal funds, it could be running afoul of federal civil rights laws if its actions create “disparate harm on the basis of race or national origin.”
  • Require the Bloomfield Police Department — and all New Jersey police departments — to collect, aggregate and publicly release data, including racial demographic data, regarding its enforcement activity, including stops, frisks, searches, summonses, arrests, and use-of-force incidents.
  • Build more transparency in New Jersey’s municipal courts by ensuring greater data collection on the issuance and collection of fines and fees and by securing public access to those data.

“The people of Bloomfield, and of Newark, East Orange, and other communities across the state, deserve their interactions with the police to be fair, transparent, accountable, and bias-free,” Rosmarin said.

Read the Seton Hall Center for Policy & Research report on racial profiling, as well as the ACLU-NJ’s low-level offenses report.