Community connects with feds on monitor of Newark PD

By Jessica Mazzola | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on May 05, 2015

NEWARK — A federal monitor of the city's police department will be partly based on residents' feelings on how the department should be changed.

Representatives from the U.S. Attorney's Office heard about two hours of suggestions and questions from more than 100 Newark residents at a community forum Monday night. The dialogue is one of five the justice department plans to hold throughout the city as it continues putting together a consent decree with Newark government officials. The agreement is set to outline exactly what the monitor will entail, and areas of reform focus for the police department, officials said at the meeting.

"We are right now figuring out exactly what we are going to negotiate with the city, and exactly what we want to make sure is in that consent decree. It's really helpful to hear all of this (feedback from the community)," U.S. Attorney's Office Executive Assistant, Sabrina Comizzoli told the crowd at the meeting.

The list of resident suggestions was long, and included cultural sensitivity training for officers, complaints about alleged racial profiling, and a residency requirement for NPD officers. Attendees also asked questions about the monitoring process.

In July, the justice department released a report that found that the Newark police department repeatedly violated the rights of its citizens, particularly African Americans. It demanded that the city's PD become the first in the state to be under a federal monitor. It is currently considering 21 applicants for the job.

Many residents at the meeting Monday expressed a desire to be a part of the process of choosing between the applicants, and of contributing to the overseeing of the PD.

"You should partner with a group in the city that can do a cop watch," one resident who identified herself as Medina suggested to the representatives. "We could send you our recordings and videos of what (interactions with) the police are really like...And, that data needs to be available to the people."

Others urged the DOJ representatives to make sure that the reforms being discussed would stick.

"What kind of power will this monitor have?" attendee Reverend Milton Drew asked. "Will it just be a piece of paper?"

Drew also suggested the consent agreement include a measure requiring police officers to become more a part of the Newark community.

"They need to walk the streets, they need to be with the community," he said. "Not in their cars, they need to walk with us."

The meeting was hosted by the People's Organization for Progress, and attended by members of the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU.

"I have never seen community outreach done on this scale before," POP Chair Larry Hamm told NJ Advance Media, praising the Justice Department for including Newark residents in their course of action.

"But, process is not progress. I will consider it progress when we see results."

Activists at the event called the first civilian review board – an entity officially formed last week when Mayor Ras Baraka signed an executive order mandating it – a move in the right direction.

"That is a huge first step," Udi Ofer, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said at the event.

"But, on its own, it will not be enough to address all of the issues (in Newark)."

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