New mayor, new promise for Newark: Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
Follow on Twitter
on June 29, 2014

By Udi Ofer and Richard T. Smith

Ras Baraka, who will be inaugurated Tuesday as Newark’s mayor, has an opportunity to bring harmony to the Brick City’s community and police force.


The election of Ras Baraka as the next mayor of Newark has raised the exciting possibility of a new day for police-community relations in New Jersey’s largest city. There are several steps that the mayor-elect can take in his first days in office that will help turn over a new leaf.

Police-community relations in Newark have been fraught for decades, dating to 1967 and the rampant police misconduct leading up to that summer’s clashes between residents and the police.

In September 2010, after decades of complaints, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Justice requesting a civil rights investigation of the Newark Police Department. The petition documented 418 reports of police misconduct, including false arrests, excessive force, unlawful stops and searches, and a broken internal affairs system.

In May 2011, the Department of Justice responded by initiating an investigation of the police department, and reports suggest that a consent decree will soon be signed and a federal monitor will be appointed to oversee the Newark Police Department.

Today, Newark stands at a crossroads. Baraka, who will be inaugurated Tuesday, comes into office with new potential to lead Newark down a path toward reconciliation and reform. He has passionately voiced his commitment to civil rights and to fair and effective policing.

The mayor-elect has a tremendous opportunity to create a bold and historic civil rights legacy immediately. He can begin by taking the following four steps during his first days in office:

First, he should welcome the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee the Newark Police Department. As outlined in the ACLU-NJ’s complaint to the Department of Justice, the state’s largest municipal police department has been unable to monitor itself. The type of expertise a monitor trained in addressing civil rights abuses can provide would help shepherd through meaningful reforms.

Experience from other cities proves that monitors work most effectively on behalf of communities when the reform process is fully embraced by the mayor, police director and council members. The mayor should work together with the Department of Justice to improve police practices and accountability in Newark.

Second, Baraka should ensure that oversight of the Newark Police Department outlasts any one monitor by supporting the creation of a strong and independent civilian review board to discipline police officers who violate the rights of people in Newark, and an inspector general role to review police practices.

Newark communities have called for a civilian review board since the 1960s. The time has come to bring this long-sought plan to fruition and to create the nation’s strongest, most effective police review board. New York City recently created the position of an inspector general focused solely on reviewing police practices and making recommendations for reform, and Newark would do well to create a similar position.

Third, Baraka should comply fully with the Police Transparency Policy adopted by the Booker administration. This groundbreaking policy gave Newark residents access for the first time to basic information about stop-and-frisk practices in the city.

So far, the data paint a troubling picture: ACLU-NJ analysis has raised serious concerns about the volume of stops, the racial disparities in who is getting stopped and the fact that most people who are stopped are innocent. Yet a significant portion of the data required under the policy is yet to be reported.

For example, the police have not revealed why Newark residents are stopped in the first place or issued data on the impact of stop-and-frisk on immigrant communities. Baraka should make sure that all data are collected and released immediately.

Finally, the mayor-elect should support the creation of a community advisory board comprised of community members tasked with guiding the mayor and police director on police-community relations, community priorities and ways to improve safety while upholding civil rights and liberties.

By taking these four steps, Ras Baraka will build a stronger, and safer, Newark.

Udi Ofer is the executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey. Richard T. Smith is the president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. Share your thoughts at

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment