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Head of the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at Press Conference to Announce Agreement with City of Newark, New Jersey, to Reform Police Department’s Unconstitutional Practices


Newark, NJ
United States

Good morning, and thank you all for joining us.  Thank you, U.S. Attorney [Paul] Fishman, for your strong leadership and the collaborative partnership throughout this process.  I want to thank Mayor [Ras] Baraka and [Public Safety Director] Anthony Ambrose as well for your leadership and commitment to reform as we worked together to craft this agreement.  I also want to thank law enforcement for engaging in this reform effort and for your service to this community.  And of course, I must thank the people of Newark for their engagement and instructive feedback throughout this process, and for their confidence in what this city can achieve in the years ahead.

Today marks an important milestone for Newark.  It demonstrates the change we can achieve by listening to each other and learning from one another – especially when our perspectives may differ.  And above all, today signifies a new beginning for this city, for its residents and for its officers.  Because of your collective efforts, I now stand before you to announce an agreement that holds the potential to make Newark a national model for constitutional, effective and accountable community policing in the 21st century.

As you just heard from Paul, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Civil Rights Division worked together to conduct a comprehensive and thorough investigation of the Newark Police Department.  We led a fact-driven review by examining a wide range of data.  We analyzed more than 10,000 field inquiry reports, more than 300 use-of-force reports and more than 50,000 stops.  We reviewed thousands of pages of documents, including the police department’s written policies, procedures and training materials.  And we employed reliable, representative data analysis to ensure our review led to accurate results.

Beyond an exhaustive review of data, we also led a robust effort to speak directly with a wide range of stakeholders: line officers and detectives; police supervisors and command staff; residents and community leaders; civil rights advocates and union officials.  We set up a community email address and toll-free hotline to gather information from anyone willing to share it.  The diverse range of viewpoints we heard helped to inform our perspectives, to ensure community input and to strengthen the quality of our investigation.

And through our investigation we found a series of troubling practices – including unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests; the use of excessive force; and theft by officers – in violation of the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments.  We found practices that not only broke the law, but also eroded trust.  We found policies that not only harmed residents, but also lacked accountability.  And we found systems that not only failed the community, but also failed officers themselves.

Now I want to take this opportunity to speak directly to the men and women of the Newark Police Department.  Each and every day, you put your lives on the line to ensure the safety of this community.  And our investigation made clear that you have been asked to do this tremendously difficult work without adequate policy guidance, training, supervision and support.  You told us about the pressure you felt to issue citations to satisfy informal quotas, rather than to improve public safety.  You told us – and we heard the same thing from community members – about the need for accountability systems with more fair and more consistent standards.  And you told us about your desire for improved training and enhanced support so that you can perform your jobs more effectively.  From support and supervision, to guidance and resources – this agreement includes many key provisions designed to address your needs.

Our agreement holds the potential to make policing in Newark more effective for officers, more just for residents and more accountable to the entire community.  And most importantly, our agreement will ensure that the patterns, practices and policies of the Newark Police Department comply with the U.S. Constitution.

These reforms include revised policies and training protocols – along with enhanced supervision measures – to ensure that officers conduct all stops, searches and arrests in accordance with the Constitution.  Under the agreement, the Newark Police Department will also require officers to respect the First Amendment rights of residents to witness, observe, record, comment on and complain about officer conduct.  In addition, our agreement will ensure that the department delivers policing services free of unlawful bias in an equitable, fair and respectful manner for the entire community.  And our agreement requires implicit bias training and enhanced tracking about the race, ethnicity, age and gender of people stopped and involved in use-of-force incidents with police.

The agreement also requires a range of accountability and oversight measures.  It requires equipping all marked patrol cars with video cameras and most officers with body cameras.  It requires improved recordkeeping practices and audits to prevent and deter theft.  It requires revised systems that guarantee full, fair and efficient investigations of officer misconduct – as well as new disciplinary guidance.  And it requires a broad set of changes to data collection – both to improve internal communication within the department and to enhance external supervision from the community.

This agreement emphasizes community engagement as a critical ingredient for reform.  It requires the city to create a civilian oversight entity to improve transparency in the police department and public confidence from the community.  It establishes a problem-oriented policing model to strengthen collaborative community partnerships.  And it requires an annual survey to assess the community’s experience with the police and its perceptions of public safety.

Today, we filed this agreement in federal court.  Once a judge approves our agreement, an independent monitor will assess and report on the implementation progress for an initial term of five years.  The agreement will end once the city demonstrates to the court substantial and effective compliance for two consecutive years.  So yes, this agreement will take time.  But we believe it will vindicate the constitutional rights of citizens and bring invaluable benefits to officers, helping them to more effectively police the city they serve.

Beyond the changes to policies and practices, this agreement creates a framework to begin rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the community it serves.  Whether officers or civilians, we all want safe, thriving and prosperous communities where residents and law enforcement officers work hand-in-hand to ensure peace, stability and safety.  Yet when officers flout the law or abuse their authority, this discourages people from working with police.  It makes the job harder for officers committed to constitutional policing.  It delegitimizes the moral authority – not only of the police, but also of the laws they enforce.  And we know that mistrust between police and residents breaks down collaboration, impedes the sharing of information and leads to less effective policing.  This makes everyone – residents and officers alike – less safe.

As I mentioned earlier, today marks an exciting, and indeed historic, step of progress for the entire Newark community.  But make no mistake.  Here in Newark, across New Jersey and around the nation – changing policies, improving systems and rebuilding trust in policing will not come easily.  Change will not happen overnight.  In many ways, the tough, complex and challenging work still lies ahead.  But precisely because of the dedicated leaders in this city – from government, to law enforcement, to the community – I know that we can tackle these challenges.  I know that we can bring real change to this city.  And I know that, together, we can write a new chapter for the police officers of Newark and the residents they serve.

Thank you very much.

Civil Rights
Updated August 19, 2016