NEWARK — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) welcomed a report in the May 8, 2011 edition of The Star-Ledger that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will formally investigate the Newark Police Department’s (NPD) patterns of misconduct, which the ACLU-NJ documented in a September 2010 petition seeking federal intervention in the troubled police department.
"The ACLU-NJ first called for federal intervention in the Newark Police Department in 1967,” said Deborah Jacobs, ACLU-NJ executive director. “The announcement that the DOJ will bring its resources and expertise to our city and hold the NPD accountable marks a critical moment in our city's history. The cries of Newarkers have finally been heard.”
After the ACLU-NJ submitted its petition, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division responded with concern over the number of civil rights violations the ACLU-NJ had found in public records between January 1, 2008 to July 1, 2010.
The ACLU-NJ found 418 serious, routine civil rights violations reported by citizens during that period, including false arrests, inconsistent discipline of problematic officers, discrimination against fellow officers and, most egregiously, acts of violence against citizens that have 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.
The ACLU-NJ hopes the federal government will provide 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 to other police departments struggling to break free of ingrained institutional acceptance of civil rights abuses,” Jacobs added. “We hope that Newark city officials will overcome their resistance to federal intervention and work productively with the DOJ so that 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 DOJ 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.
A 1994 law authorizes the DOJ to intervene if a police department demonstrates a “pattern or practice” of violating the law or citizens’ constitutional rights.
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.