The Justice Department today announced it has reached an agreement with the city of Newark, New Jersey, to address a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing by the Newark Police Department (NPD). The agreement follows a joint investigation by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, the results of which were also released today.
The findings, detailed in a report provided to the city and to NPD leadership, document the NPD’s pattern or practice of constitutional violations in its stop and arrest practices; its response to individuals exercising their rights under the First Amendment; its use of force; and through theft by officers. The investigation also revealed deficiencies in NPD systems that are designed to prevent and detect misconduct.
The city of Newark cooperated with the investigation, which began on May 9, 2011, and has agreed to enter into a court-enforceable, independently monitored agreement to reform the NPD to ensure constitutional policing. The terms of the agreement are outlined in the agreement in principle released today. Among other things, the NPD must continue to develop and implement improvements to its stop, arrest and force policies and procedures, and to train its officers on how to conduct effective and constitutional policing. The NPD also must implement systems that ensure accountability, commit to building police-community partnerships and improve the quality of policing throughout the city.
“Our investigation uncovered troubling patterns in stops, arrests and use of force by the police in Newark. With this agreement, we’re taking decisive action to address potential discrimination and end unconstitutional conduct by those who are sworn to serve their fellow citizens,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “This action reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to working with our law enforcement partners in order to ensure the highest standards of integrity and professionalism. Under today’s agreement, Newark police officials are taking the first in a series of important steps to restore public trust in their department and ensure both the safety and the civil rights of Newark residents.”
“Today the city of Newark has taken a bold step toward ensuring constitutional policing that better serves all of Newark’s residents,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels. “The Department of Justice report released today makes clear the depth and breadth of the challenges Newark faces in reforming its police department; but the agreement in principle provides a roadmap for reform and underscores the shared determination of the city of Newark and the Department of Justice to making this reform real and sustainable.”
“The people of Newark deserve to be safe, and so do the thousands who come here to work, to learn, and to take advantage of all the city has to offer,” said U.S. Attorney Fishman. “They also need to know the police protecting them are doing that important – and often dangerous – work while respecting their constitutional rights. The Justice Department has a long history of making sure of that, and today we have the commitment of Newark's mayor and the leadership of the police department to make the department the one that the city deserves.”
During the investigation, the Justice Department reviewed thousands of NPD documents, including written policies and procedures, documentation of stops, searches and arrests, internal investigation files and use of force reports and reviews. Attorneys and investigators also interviewed NPD officers, supervisors and command staff, as well as city officials, and met with hundreds of community members and local advocates.
As the report describes, the Justice Department found reasonable cause to believe that the NPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional stops in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, NPD officers failed to articulate sufficient justification for nearly 75 percent of pedestrian stops. NPD officers also disproportionately stopped black people relative to their representation in Newark’s population. Although the NPD’s reports were insufficient to allow the Justice Department to determine whether this disparity was the result of intentional discrimination or was otherwise unlawful, the report urges the city of Newark and NPD to improve its collection and analysis of its stop, search and arrest data to facilitate a more thorough analysis of the racial and ethnic impacts of NPD’s police practices and to take steps to eliminate avoidable disparities.
Through the course of the investigation, the Justice Department also found that NPD officers have detained and arrested individuals who lawfully objected to police actions or behaved in a way that officers perceived as disrespectful, in violation of the First Amendment.
In addition, the Justice Department found cause to believe that the NPD engaged in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force. The NPD has been unable to make reliable conclusions about whether a particular use of force was reasonable due to substantial underreporting and inadequate investigation of the use of force by NPD officers. Nonetheless, of the incidents reviewed as part of the Justice Department’s investigation, more than 20 percent of NPD officers reported use of force that appeared unreasonable.
The investigation also found a pattern or practice of theft of citizens’ property by NPD officers in violation of the Fourth and 14 th Amendments, including by officers in NPD’s specialized units, such as the narcotics and gang units, and at NPD’s prisoner processing unit.
The Justice Department’s report details other inadequacies that contributed to a pattern of constitutional violations. Deficiencies were found in Internal Affairs (IA) processes, in investigations reviewing use of force and complaints regarding officer misconduct, in supervision and management, and in the training of officers and IA investigators.
The Justice Department conducted its investigation jointly through the Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, with the assistance of law enforcement and statistics experts.
Both the report and the agreement in principle, along with summaries of each, will be available on the Civil Rights Division website .