Civil rights, labor groups urge federal officials to break silence on Newark PD monitor

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for
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on April 15, 2015

NEWARK — Last year, federal authorities announced their intentions to implement a number of reforms to the Newark Police Department, including orders to improve its efforts to engage the public.

As they move closer to choosing a monitor who will oversee those changes, a group of local advocates is hoping it may heed some of its own advice.

Last month, Newark Communities for Accountable Policing, a newly-formed coalition that includes the ACLU of New Jersey, Newark NAACP and other local civil rights and labor groups, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman's office requesting that information about the selection process — including applicants' names, the criteria they will be evaluated on and timetable for selection — all be released to the public.

"The selection criteria should incorporate the concerns of Newark communities, which will then ensure the selection of a capable and qualified team of experts who will serve the interests of Newark residents, in addition to the parties to the consent decree, in building a safer, stronger, and more resilient city," the letter said.

"Therefore, we respectfully request a more transparent selection process, and one that provides a role for Newark residents to voice their opinions."

The Justice Department posted an advertisement seeking applications for the monitor position in early January, asking for them to be submitted by Feb. 13. Since then, however, it has been mum on how many were received, who the applicants are or when a final decision might be rendered.

NJ Advance Media requested the information from U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman's office last month, and was told legal staffers were reviewing what could or could not be disclosed. More recent inquiries have also been unsuccessful, with no reasoning offered for the delay.

Members of NCAP's steering committee said its letter, dated March 19, has also gone unanswered. The missive had requested a response by March 27.

Once appointed, the monitor will help oversee changes to the police department ordered by the DOJ after a two-year investigation exposed a host of problems within its ranks, including the routine violation of citizens' civil rights and a failure to adequately investigate complaints against officers.

Federal and city officials are still negotiating the exact terms of a legally binding agreement, officially referred to as a "consent decree", that will lay out the specific reforms required of the department.

However, the DOJ has promised that it will include measures to increase civilian oversight, community engagement, and additional training to prevent bias-motivated stops and other constitutional breaches. The monitor is expected to remain in the city for at least five years to ensure they are properly carried out.

Rashawn Davis, an organizer with NCAP, said he felt the community should have input on the ultimate selection of the monitor, especially given the DOJ's calls to help heal a decades-old division between the public and city police.

"If the DOJ report said nothing else it said community involvement is going to be pivotal in moving the police department forward," he said.

Should it be able to obtain information on the applicants, NCAP said it would consider publicly endorsing candidates for the monitor position — an idea inspired by a similar group, APD Forward, in Albuquerque, N.M.

In January, that city and the DOJ agreed to hire Public Management Resources Inc., one of three applicants APD Forward had recommended, according to the Albuquerque Journal. PMRI also served as a federally appointed monitor for the New Jersey State Police for more than 10 years until 2009.

While answers have been hard to come by early on in the process, Davis said he is hopeful he and others in Newark may end up having a similar say.

"We really haven't had a lot of contact with the DOJ in regards to this," he said. "We think it's pivotal that the community at least know what's going on."

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