5 things we know about Ras Baraka's plans for a civilian complaint review board in Newark

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on January 21, 2015

NEWARK — Mayor Ras Baraka on Tuesday announced his plans to begin work on the first-ever civilian complaint review board in Newark — a bold step that is sure to raise some eyebrows in the Brick City.

The board, which citizens could call on to investigate their allegations of excessive force, discourtesy or offensive language by city officers, is meant to provide new civilian oversight of the police department, which was the subject of a scathing federal report released in July.

Still, the board’s makeup and extent of its powers are still far from set. Baraka himself has acknowledged that it would not begin meeting until late this year at the absolute earliest, and various attorneys and other workers are busy drafting documents that would help lay out its roles and methods of operation.

For now, however, here are 5 things we know about it:

1. The board would have the power to subpoena officers to provide testimony before it, as well as command the police department to provide certain documents relative to their investigations.

If it determines discipline is warranted, it would deliver a recommendation to Police Director Eugene Venable, who would make the final call as to whether punishment is handed down.

2. While disciplinary decisions will ultimately rest with Venable, the city is in the process of drafting a so-called “discipline matrix” that would provide guidelines for what punishment might be appropriate for various charges.

The step is meant to prevent the board from handing down overly severe punishments, as well as ensure accountability from the police administration when making final determinations.

3. There is a lot of work left to do. Baraka has drafted an executive order that essentially gets the ball rolling toward forming a board. But he admits that a permanent board that fits his vision would require both a city ordinance and changes in state law — something that was not lost on Newark police unions.

4. The board will include a wide range of voices. Baraka will appoint an inspector general that may have ties to the police department, while the other eight members will be appointed by the Municipal Council and a handful of community organizations including the ACLU and the NAACP.

5. The announcement comes as the U.S. Department of Justice is making visible progress toward appointing a federal monitor to oversee various reforms in the police department. Last week, the agency posted an advertisement seeking applicants for the position.

The monitor will be responsible for ensuring the department makes adequate progress in enacting various changes in response to a DOJ report that found officers routinely engaged in excessive force and violated citizens’ constitutional rights. Among the suggested improvements were — you guessed it — additional civilian oversight of the force.

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