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Oral Argument in NJ Supreme Court Will Decide Newark Civilian Review Board's Authority

April 27, 2020

Newark CCRB, held up nationally as an example since its 2016 creation, has withstood challenges from police unions

NEWARK – Advocates voiced strong support for Newark’s Civilian Complaint Review Board in advance of oral arguments scheduled April 27 before the New Jersey Supreme Court regarding the CCRB’s powers.

“The ACLU-NJ has been fighting for police accountability since our founding, and we are proud to have worked with our advocacy partners to ensure that Newark established the community oversight of its police that we deserve- a Civilian Complaint Review Board with significant investigatory and oversight power, and seats at the table for representatives of social and racial justice organizations. Monday’s hearing is a pivotal moment in the long fight for police accountability,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Director Sarah Fajardo.

In 2019, most of the CCRB’s powers were restored by an appeals court, after a trial court decided that the CCRB could not investigate wrongdoing by individual officers. The case, brought by the police officers’ union in 2016, is captioned Fraternal Order of Police, Newark Lodge No. 12 v. the City of Newark.

“The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) will spearhead access to fairness and equity in the Public Safety arena. Granting the CCRB investigative and subpoena powers can lead to truthfulness, involving any findings of misconduct by the Newark Police Department. There still is a fail-safe based on any penalties incurred or final decisions remain in the hands of the Public Safety Director," said Newark NAACP President Deborah Smith Gregory.

Newark Communities for Accountable Policing (N-CAP), a coalition of organizations united in support of strong oversight to rein in abuses of power among police, has been part of this lawsuit from the beginning, filing briefs as a friend of the court. This case is pivotal in the decades-long fight for meaningful civilian oversight to improve accountability of the Newark Police Department (NPD).

“While we will not be able to sit in the court room during the civilian complaint review board arguments, efforts are being made to make it possible for people to watch the proceedings on line. The People’s Organization for Progress urges everyone to do so. The court needs to see that hundreds of people are watching and are concerned about the outcome. For more than 50 years the people of Newark have demanded an empowered police review board. They want one that has subpoena and investigatory powers. Such a board was created five years ago through mayoral executive order and municipal ordinance. However, from the beginning the police organizations have opposed it and went into court to stop it. The People’s Organization for Progress has been fighting for a police review board since our organization came into existence 38 years ago. We urge people to continue to fight for this police review board by staying engaged with the legal and political processes until victory is achieved in the courts and the police review board is firmly established and functioning,” said People’s Organization for Progress Chairman Lawrence Hamm.

In 2010, the ACLU-NJ petitioned the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the NPD for rampant civil rights violations. Following a three-year investigation, the DOJ issued a report revealing widespread abuses, including unconstitutional policing practices, excessive brutality, and an absence of accountability throughout the operations of the NPD.

“As public health issues and policing become more interconnected we need a strong Civilian Complaint Review Broad now more than ever. We need our frontline communities to feel safer, it's been 50 years too long waiting for justice. The courts need to lead the way to justice and protect a strong CCRB that ensures a better relationship between our community and police. A strong CCRB is only a first step but without it there is no hope for healing,” said Ironbound Community Corporation Director of Environmental Justice and Community Development Maria Lopez-Nuñez.

For more than 50 years, Newark communities have called for police accountability through a civilian oversight board. In the wake of the DOJ investigation and the court-ordered consent decree, N-CAP and the ACLU-NJ worked with the City of Newark to enact one of the most progressive CCRB laws in the country.

Under the existing law passed in 2016 by the Newark Municipal Council and signed by Mayor Ras Baraka, Newark’s CCRB will be chaired by the director of public safety and consist of 11 members appointed by the mayor, the large majority of which are recommended by respected community and civil rights organizations. Armed with the power to subpoena necessary documents and testimonies, the CCRB is currently hiring staff. The CCRB will also act in an advisory capacity, helping to rebuild the relationship between the NPD and the community it serves.

Category: Police Practices

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