Newark council approves police oversight board, union vows to sue

By Vernal Coleman | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on March 16, 2016

Local activists gather outside Newark City Hall as the Municipal Council prepares to vote on the proposed Citizens Complaint Review Board 3.16.16

 

NEWARK — With a unanimous vote, the Newark municipal council today codified into law the city's first citizen complaint review board — a move advocates say will ensure lasting public oversight of the city's police force.

Created by executive order of Mayor Ras Baraka in 2015, the board's 11 members are empowered to review police misconduct allegations and make sure that discipline is administered when it occurs.

Speakers at the council meeting, noting that citizens had been pushing for civilian oversight of the police department for nearly 50 years, called it essential to the rebuilding of trust between law enforcement and the public.

Rick Robinson of the Newark branch of the NAACP joined other longtime advocates of the review board in thanking city officials, including Mayor Ras Baraka.

The review board will be a boon for the city, enhancing cooperation between the police force and residents,  Robinson said.

However, James Stewart Jr., president of the Newark Fraternal Order of Police, said the board with its sweeping powers, is illegal and the union plans to challenge it in court.

"The passage of the CCRB by the council doesn't finalize the matter," Stewart said. "It just brings us closer to having our day in court."

Conceived in the wake of a damning report released by the U.S. Department of Justice in July 2014, the board is designed to provide additional civilian oversight of a beleaguered police department that federal investigators found routinely engaged in acts of excessive force and violations of residents' constitutional rights.

It would grant citizens the option of directing their complaints to the board or to the police department's internal affairs unit. Board members would then conduct an independent investigation on cases brought before them, and would be able to summon the officers facing the allegations to a formal hearing.

The board will issue a determination as to whether an act of misconduct occurred, which will be forwarded to the city's police chief, who can issue a final decision on punishment using a so-called "discipline matrix" that creates guidelines for certain offenses and their severity.

The provisions are key to ensuring that the Newark board is capable of increasing police accountability, power that civilian review boards in some other cities do not have, Ofer said ACLU Executive Director Udi Ofer.

"All these organizations seem to be doing cartwheels over how far reaching this CCRB is as constituted with its investigatory and subpoena powers," Stewart added. "Maybe they should be wondering why it's the first of its kind in the nation.

"We will not allow our member's rights to simply be rolled over," Stewart said after the council vote. He said the union contract in addition to state law are being violated with the creation of this board and the union prefers to "let a judge decide what is permitted and what is not, and who is allowed to do it."

The board will consist of an inspector general appointed by the mayor, three members of the Municipal Council or their designees, and one chosen each of six community organizations — the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, People's Organization for Progress, Ironbound Community Corporation, La Casa de Don Pedro and a local clergy member.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment