Civil rights groups say Newark police falling short on transparency pledge

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on September 18, 2014

Civil rights advocates say the Newark Police Department has failed to fully comply with a policy requiring it to publish comprehensive details about its "stop and frisk" program.

 

NEWARK — Last year, the city’s police department announced a new initiative to make records regarding its controversial ‘stop and frisk’ program available to the public.

More than a year later, however, civil rights advocates who initially praised the new policy say they are still waiting for the promise to be fulfilled.

In a letter delivered to the Mayor Ras Baraka, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman and the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this month, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Newark NAACP and other groups decried the department’s failure to fully comply with the policy, which was introduced to much fanfare last summer.

“Although issued more than a year ago, as of its July 2014 Transparency Data report, the NPD has still not provided an array of required data to the public about its stop-and-frisk practices…,” the letter said.

In August 2013, the department became the first police agency in the country to post monthly data on a stop and frisk program, releasing reports on its website detailing the number of stops (broken down by precinct), the race, age and gender of those detained, and the number of summonses issued as a result.

Last month, officers made a total of 1,629 stops, with 354, or roughly one-fifth, resulting in a citation or criminal charge. Of those stopped, 1,063, or about 65 percent, were black.

However, the ACLU and other groups say the department is still not reporting the reasons that prompted a given stop, whether any contraband was seized and what kind, what charges or citations were issued, whether those stopped spoke proficient English, and other details required by the policy.

Newark police did not return multiple requests for comment.

The so-called ‘stop and frisk’ program has come under increased scrutiny since July, when the U.S. Department of Justice revealed the results of a two-year investigation that found up to 75 percent of the department’s "stop and frisks' may have been unconstitutional, and that the city’s black residents had their rights violated more often than any other sector of the community.

Investigators also found that the department’s internal affairs division suffered from various systemic issues, that up to a fifth of its reported uses for force were excessive in nature, and that officers in various units had stolen from suspects and prisoners.

An agreement in principle distributed at the time states that federal officials will appoint a monitor to oversee a number of reforms aimed at fixing the department’s issues, including measures to increase overall transparency.

“NPD will, to the extent permissible by law, make its policies publicly available, and shall regularly report information regarding officer use of force; handling of misconduct complaints; and stop/search/arrest data,” the agreement said.

Reports detailing the number of use of force incidents, internal affairs complaints and their dispositions and department discipline through June are also published on the department’s website.

Ofer said he was disappointed that the department has not expanded the breadth of information it make available since the DOJ report was released, adding that the monthly reports have been increasingly late, and data for some months never posted at all.

"Where as now we should be seeing a police department that is becoming more transparent and more accountable, we’re seeing a police department that continues to withhold information that the people of Newark deserve to see," he said.

The request for the department to comply with the transparency policy was just one of 19 reforms it requested in the letter to Baraka, Fishman and the DOJ.

Among the suggestions are the creation of a citizen complaint review board with the power to subpoena and discipline officers accused of misconduct, additional training in a variety of areas and the establishment of an “early warning” system to prevent potential civil rights violations.

Rebekah Carmichael, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Fishman, said federal officials were still meeting with city leaders and other groups to help mold the agreement outlining the reforms of the police department.

Though Fishman had originally estimated the agreement might be finalized by mid-September, Carmichael said there was no specific timetable currently in place.

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