Former N.J. comptroller, attorney general among candidates to oversee Newark PD reforms

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on April 20, 2015

Former state Comptroller Matthew Boxer, pictured with Gov. Chris Christie on Dec. 19, 2013, is among 21 candidates to oversee widespread reforms to the Newark Police Department ordered by the U.S. Department of Justice.

 

NEWARK — Local and federal officials are currently weighing their options on who might oversee wide-ranging reforms for the Newark Police Department over the next several years, and their list of candidates includes several names with strong connections to New Jersey political circles.

Former Attorney General Peter C. Harvey and ex-Comptroller A. Matthew Boxer are among 21 hopefuls who earlier this year submitted applications to the U.S. Department of Justice for the job monitoring a number of changes to the Newark force.

The applications were due in February, and U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman's office released a list of the candidates on Friday.

Harvey became the state's first African-American attorney general when Gov. Jim McGreevey appointed him in 2003, and remained at the post until 2006. During his term, he helped manage reforms within the state police, which were in the midst of a 10-year monitoring period ordered by the DOJ after a racial-profiling scandal.

Boxer became the state's first comptroller in 2008, after the position was created the year prior, and held the position until the end of 2013.

Along with Harvey and Boxer, the group includes others with ties to high-ranking state offices, including Lee Vartan, a former executive assistant attorney general and assistant counsel to Governor Chris Christie.

Since leaving their positions in Trenton, Harvey, Boxer and Vartan have all landed at prominent law firms. Most other applicants for the monitor position sport a similar background, touting experience assisting corporations or public agencies comply with government regulations and orders.

Others are employed with law enforcement-focused consulting companies that have often been tapped by large urban police departments who find themselves under scrutiny.

One applicant for the Newark job, Matthew Barge of New York City-based Police Assessment Resource Center, is currently serving as deputy director of a team overseeing the Seattle police department as it works to implement federally ordered reforms to correct a pattern of excessive force and other potentially discriminatory practices.

The need for the monitor in Newark arose in July, when the DOJ released a scathing report detailing the findings of a two-year investigation into the police department that exposed a number of systemic issues within its ranks, including the routine violation of citizens' civil rights and an almost total failure to adequately investigate complaints against officers.

The precise changes any eventual pick will be charged with overseeing will be detailed in a legally binding agreement known as a consent decree. City and federal officials are still in the process of negotiating a final agreement.

However, the DOJ has promised that it will include measures to increase civilian oversight, community engagement, and new 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.

Mayor Ras Baraka has already publicly supported measures, including plans for a civilian complaint review board and the purchase of body cameras for officers, in hopes of helping to solve issues identified in the agency's report.

While detailing plans for the review board earlier this year, he said he hoped those initiatives would help ensure that reforms were already in progress by the time any official oversight begins.

"My job as the CEO of the city is to make sure that monitor has a short stay in the city of Newark," he said. "In Newark we believe that we can rehabilitate ourselves, and do what we can to ensure the monitor will have no place in the city of Newark."

Thus far, officials have given little indication of when a monitor might be chosen, or what kind of criteria will be used to make the selection.

Last month, Newark Communities for Accountable Policing — a newly formed coalition of organizations including the Newark NAACP and New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union — sent federal officials a letter asking them to solicit public opinion on the candidates before making a choice. The DOJ has yet to officially respond to the request.

Baraka has said the city would be responsible for paying for the monitor, though it remains unclear how great of an expense it may prove.

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