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Feds Find Newark Police Engaged in 'Unconstitutional Policing'

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

WNYC

A three-year long federal investigation found the Newark Police Department engaged in "a pattern of unconstitutional policing" that included excessive use of force and inadequate accountability, the Justice Department said. In response, the government will appoint a federal monitor.

The investigation was led by New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

Among the report's key findings:

  • 75 percent of pedestrian stops documented by the NPD were unconstitutional, violating citizens' First and Fourth Amendment rights. Investigators say its likely many of the illegal stops resulted in unconstitutional arrests.
  • Black residents make up 53.9 percent of Newark's population, but accounted for 85 percent of reported stop-and-frisks, and 79.3 percent of NPD arrests.
  • More than 20 percent of officers' use of force was found to be excessive.
  • A pattern of theft by officers exists in the department's gang and narcotics units, where officers would routinely steal money and other belongings from those they arrest.

The study covers the 2009-2012, when U.S. Sen. Cory Booker was Mayor. In a statement, Booker said that the problems cited are "serious" and "decades-long" and "shared by cities across the country." He said, "When I was mayor, we worked with the ACLU to implement reforms that set a national model for stop-and-frisk transparency [and] emphasized police-community relations."

As mayor, Booker welcomed the DOJ's investigation into the police department's practices, calling it "free consulting," but he was resistant to federal oversight.

Current Mayor Ras Baraka has been a vocal critic of police misconduct for years. He says he's thankful the federal government has uncovered facts about the police department that Newarkers have long suspected.

"One can look at this, 22 days in as the mayor, that the roof is caving in," Baraka said. "But I look at it as an opportunity to build a new roof."

Residents were stopped for "milling in a high crime area" and "loitering in an area where drugs are sold," according to U.S. Attorney Fishman. "That is not reasonable suspicion under the constitution."

Newark resident Angelo Murray, 49, has been stopped by police before. He says he doesn't feel like he can stand on a sidewalk in his city.

“The streets supposed to be for anybody. If you're a taxpayer and if you're black, you're supposed to walk anywhere in the neighborhood,” he said. “They need to fire a lot of these police officers.”

Current Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy directed Newark's police department during most of the period covered. McCarthy has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The monitor is expected to be appointed by September.

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