Newark unveils civilian police review board

NEWARK — In response to growing public concern over overly aggressive policing, city officials unveiled what they and others have billed as one of the civilian police review panels. most powerful in the country, endowed with subpoena power and the authority to make binding recommendations.

Mayor Ras Baraka’s announcement on Thursday follows protests in New York and other U.S. cities over the death of a 25-year-old Baltimore man, who lost his life after sustaining spinal injuries vertebral while in police custody.

Mr Baraka, a Democrat elected to head New Jersey’s largest city last year, said existing checks on allegations of misconduct by the city’s police force were found to be insufficient.

“Years ago, we thought that if we hired African American and Latino officers, these kinds of incidents would go away. We were wrong, ”Baraka said during the city hall announcement. “It’s a systemic problem.”

Newark’s force of approximately 1,000 officers is the state’s largest city police department.

Union officials said they were still reviewing council protocol on Thursday, but the new panel appeared to violate existing state laws and employment contracts that govern reviews of police misconduct.

“We are not against a civilian police review board as long as it is within the law,” said John Chrystal, president of the Newark chapter of the Superior Officers’ Association, which represents police officers. department heads.

Police practices have become a national problem following several high-profile deaths of civilians in police custody. The deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, sparked a debate about policing in minority communities.

The issue returned to the forefront Monday after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a Baltimore man who suffered spinal injuries while in police custody, then fell into a coma and died. Dozens of New York City protesters were arrested Wednesday night after protests across Manhattan in response to Mr. Gray’s death.

Local leaders and civil rights groups had called for federal intervention in the Newark Police Department since the 1960s. In 2010, the United States Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey filed a petition with federal officials documenting over 400 allegations of police misconduct in Newark.

The US Department of Justice opened an investigation in 2011. The three-year Newark Department investigation found racial disparities in police practices, cases of excessive force, unconstitutional pedestrian stops and a weak review of police. internal affairs.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced in July, in the presence of Mr. Baraka and city police officials, that the Newark Police Force would be placed under federal supervision.

American lawyer Paul Fishman.


Photo:

Julio Cortez / Associated press

As part of a negotiated settlement with federal authorities, city officials agreed to additional internal affairs checks, new training for pedestrian stops and increased monitoring of police practices. He also called for some degree of civilian oversight, although the agreement did not spell out details of a board of directors.

On Thursday, Baraka signed an executive order creating an 11-member panel that includes people nominated by the city’s community groups, the clergy and the ACLU.

Unlike many other civilian review boards, Newark’s recommendations should have a degree of binding authority, officials said. If a complaint against an officer is valid, senior police officers will impose discipline determined by guidelines established by the committee. The panel will also have subpoena powers, Baraka said.

The Newark board “will be one of the strongest and most comprehensive in the country,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU.

Mr. Baraka said officials from the US Department of Justice were involved in negotiations on the structure of the council. A spokesperson for Mr. Fishman did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Chrystal said city officials had rejected offers by police and unions to negotiate the powers of the new panel and called the council a “political decision.” Baraka denied that labor organizations resisted reforms and said leaders need to show courage to change the culture of their departments.

Write to Heather Haddon at [email protected]

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