Baraka: Our police department has made major progress. We don’t need $38M in additional upgrades.

Posted Dec 04, 2019

By Ras Baraka

Perhaps, the greatest barometer of change is a 73% decrease in excessive force complaints, Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka says. Above, the mayor applauds as 122 new police officers are sworn in on Dec., 15 2017.


Three weeks after I was sworn in as the 40th Mayor of Newark on July 1, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice released the findings of an investigation of the city’s police department, using data and reports from a six-year period ending in 2012.

The findings documented things many Newarkers, myself included, already knew. I was born two years after the 1967 Newark Rebellion that further ignited the already-existing activism of my father, Amiri Baraka, and many other city residents, whose voices were loud and critical of Newark police practices at the time and afterward.

The Justice Department investigation commenced in May of 2011, after a petition by the American Civil Liberties Union, and studied a period of police actions from 2007 until June of 2012.

With the cooperation of the Newark police, the Justice Department concluded the constitutional rights of Newark citizens were routinely violated by unlawful stops, searches, and seizures. This yielded a pattern of racially discriminatory arrests, free speech violations, the overuse of excessive force, and theft by officers. The Justice Department noted a lack of civilian oversight or any impartial investigation into complaints against police misbehavior.

As evidence, the Justice Department concluded that 75% of all police stops in that time period were unwarranted, and despite hundreds of complaints of excessive force by police, only one was substantiated.

The report called for more transparency in police reporting and data, the cessation of ill-advised searches and more accountability in citizen complaint investigations.

My administration fully embraced the Justice Department’s demand for change because it would inevitably build trust between the people of Newark and those sworn to protect them, and ensure the safety of people on both sides.

Long before I became mayor, I believed there should be a mechanism for civilian oversight of investigations into police complaints. I set up the state’s first and only Civilian Complaint Review Board, months before the consent decree’s monitoring team was put in place in March of 2014.

Under the direction of Public Safety Director Anthony F. Ambrose, a consent decree office was formed to work with federal monitors, led by former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey, to enact the Department of Justice requirements.

Several weeks ago, the consent decree team filed its required quarterly report to the U.S. District Court. It was the seventh such report and cataloged the efforts by the Newark Police Division to build better community relations and to create a new culture of how law is enforced in our city.

Perhaps, the greatest barometer of change is a 73% decrease in excessive force complaints. In 2010, there were 88. This year, we have had 16. This equates to many things – better behavior and accountability by police, improved relationships between police and our community, and our willingness to increase training and further engage the community.

It also yields real financial savings for the city. From 2010-2014, the period of the ACLU complaint and Justice Department investigation, such lawsuits cost the city $1.4 million. Under my administration, the city has paid only $51,000 to settle excessive force lawsuits.

The federal monitoring team has been instrumental in helping us achieve the following milestones:

  • 100% participation in department-wide “Stops, Searches, and Arrests” training and “Community Policing Training.”
  • Expanded use of body-worn cameras, which exceeds consent decree recommendations by mandating all officers in patrol and their supervisors are equipped with such cameras.
  • Expanded use of bar-coded evidence analysis and tracking to improve documentation and tracking of property and evidence and centralizing the information, as suggested by the consent decree.
  • Enhanced training of police response in domestic violence incidents in providing help and counseling for victims, through the collaborative effort of the Police Special Victims Unit and the Shani Baraka Women’s Resource Center.
  • Continued emphasis on Community Policing, which the federal team monitors, with special attention to reach children and build foundational trust in the community.
  • The development of a LGBTQ order, which gives our police instructions on enhancing sensitivity in dealing with that community. It was also the first in the state.
  • The closing of the Green Street cell block, which had fallen into disrepair, and the subsequent opening of state-of-the-art holding cells at Public Safety Headquarters on Clinton Avenue.

The city has been active in other crime suppression strategies independent of the police. The Newark Community Street Team was launched in 2016 specifically to reach into our neighborhoods and defuse violence among our young people. We are presently forming a Newark Peace Cooperative made up of several anti-violence community groups to organize outreach into some of the higher crime areas of the city.

In a recent community meeting, Mr. Harvey, the former attorney general, estimated that Newark police need a $38 million upgrade of its technology, and expressed discomfort with ending the consent decree until that was completed over a five-year period.

Our data tracking systems do need to be combined under one system and we are currently analyzing solutions, but I think a $38 million price tag is excessive. We have already spent close to $5.5 million in monitoring team fees to comply with the consent decree, and at least $785,000 in police overtime for about 44,000 hours of training.

The results of our efforts can be seen at, a comprehensive look at our many community engagement events, new policies and training practices.

We are well on our way to a new era for the Newark Police Division, and while there are always more steps on the road to perfection, I am proud of the path we are on.


Ras Baraka is the mayor of Newark

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