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.
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.