Newark mayor says efforts to reform police department already underway

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media, for
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on July 28, 2014

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, shown here in a file photo, said the city has begun moving to enact reforms to its police department in the wake of troublesome findings by the U.S. Department of Justice revealed earlier this month.


NEWARK — Mayor Ras Baraka today said he has already begun to make changes to the city’s police department in the wake of damning findings released last week by the U.S. Department of Justice.

In the week since the DOJ announced the results of its two-year probe, Baraka has appointed Deputy Police Director John Arnold to oversee the force’s internal affairs unit as it undergoes changes in the way accusations against officers are investigated.

Meetings also have been scheduled to discuss the purchase of cameras for police cruisers and uniforms, and the creation of bodies to allow for civilian review of the department.

“Very soon, we’re going to be discussing what civilian oversight looks like in the city of Newark. So we’re planning to move forward on that as quickly as humanly possible,” Baraka said.

The DOJ’s 49-page report was highly critical of the IA unit, listing it as one of several “systemic deficiencies” plaguing the department, as evidenced by its rejection of all but one of hundreds of excessive force complaints filed between 2007 and 2012.

Former Deputy Chief Joseph Tutula ran the unit for the majority of that time. It is now headed by Deputy Chief Sheilah Coley and Capt. Derek Glenn, who are expected to remain on as the department overhauls its investigative procedures.

The report also detailed what it said were widespread civil rights violations in its so-called “stop-and-frisk” program, disproportionate targeting of African-Americans and use of force.

The moves are the beginning of a number of reforms that will be ordered by the federal government as part of an agreement with the city. Specific details are expected to finalized by mid-September, though the DOJ has already indicated it will require additional input from civilians on how the department functions, improved documentation of officer activity and other measures.

Both Baraka and federal authorities have not outlined what kind of civilian oversight they would like to see implemented, though the state chapters of the ACLU, NAACP and other organizations have called for a civilian complaint review board with the power to issue subpoenas and discipline individual officers.

Police Director Eugene Venable referred all comment on changes to the city’s policing to Baraka.

The mayor also cited a newly formed partnership with Jersey City and Paterson to pool police intelligence and other crime-fighting resources, as well as a push to increase officer presence in violent neighborhoods and improve the lagging relationship between the force and much of the community.

He said the initiatives were meant to combat the “no snitching, no cooperation” attitude that governs many residents’ interactions with the police.

“We’re dependent on the community to give information to the police. Right now, that relationship is just simply not there. We’re trying to establish that,” he said.

The various policy changes, however, are just one part of a broader culture shift that must occur if the city wishes to truly conquer its long-standing problems with gangs and violence, according to Baraka.

“Public safety is really just the fruit of a poisoned tree,” he said.

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