Court order leaves Newark police review board toothless, activists say

By Thomas Moriarty | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on December 15, 2016

 At Newark City Hall, People's Organization For Progress chairman Larry Hamm, center, stands with other community activists to condemn a state superior court injunction against the Newark Civilian Complaint Review Board. At the request of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and the Superior Officers Association (SOA) a state superior court judge issued an injunction against the operation of the Newark Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). The FOP and SOA requested the injunction saying that the board does not have the legal authority to exercise subpoena and investigatory powers.

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NEWARK -- A recent injunction restricting the use of subpoena and investigatory powers by Newark's civilian police review board has drawn the ire of activists who say those powers -- long questioned by police union officials -- are necessary tools.

The injunction is the result of a lawsuit filed against the city by the Newark lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, which has argued for almost two years that the board's authority undermines the Newark department's disciplinary process.

At a press conference Thursday at City Hall, representatives of the People's Organization For Progress said the move crippled a civilian body touted by city officials as necessary oversight in the wake of a scathing 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Lawrence Hamm, president of POP, argued that without the powers, "you can't seriously process a citizen's complaint."

"When you look at the struggle for a police review board, its a struggle for accountability," he said.

Hamm, was joined by members of the Newark NAACP, the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition and the community at large, as well as Rick Robinson, a member of the review board who Hamm said was unable to speak because of pending litigation.

As an example of the need, the group pointed to New York City's Civilian Complaint Review Board, which they said has long had subpoena powers of its own.

"This is not an unreasonable demand," Hamm said.

In a statement to NJ Advance Media, FOP lodge president James Stewart Jr. said there appears to be a misconception that the Civilian Complaint Review Board was ordered by the Department of Justice as part of the federal consent decree that resulted from the report.

"I can assure you that is not the case," he said.

The consent decree was approved by a federal judge in May, more than a year after the board was created in 2015 by an executive order signed by Mayor Ras Baraka, who called the board the strongest in the country.

Since the day the executive order was signed, Stewart said, it has been the FOP's position that "its powers were too far-reaching and broad, and that it flew against the New Jersey State Constitution, as well as state law."

"We filed a lawsuit to protect our members, and are prepared to move forward should this injunction be challenged, and let a Superior Court judge make a determination on the matter based on the merits of the case," he said.

A city spokesperson indicated Baraka would not be commenting on the injunction.

Court records show the case is scheduled for a motions hearing on Friday in Newark.

 

 

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