Justice News

Remarks by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels Announcing the Findings of the Department of Justice’s Investigation of the Newark Police Department
Newark, NJ
United States
Tuesday, July 22, 2014

As Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon and thank you all for joining us.  Thank you, Paul, for your work in Newark and across New Jersey.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office has been an important partner in enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws, and we thank you for your leadership.  I also appreciate that Mayor Baraka and Director Venable are joining us – welcome. 

We are here this afternoon to announce the results of the Department of Justice’s pattern or practice investigation into allegations of police misconduct by the Newark Police Department, and, as importantly, to announce that the city of Newark and the Department of Justice have already reached an agreement in principle to address the problems discovered during this investigation. 

Too often, people believe that constitutional policing is inconsistent with effective policing.  But a growing body of research, and our experience across the country, demonstrates that this is decidedly not the case.  Rather, constitutional policing is effective policing, and both the police and the community benefit when police act in accordance with the law. 

Through our work that we have done and the commitments made by the city and the Newark Police Department, we have every expectation that those benefits will soon be realized here in Newark.  While we found problems, which I will lay out in more detail in a moment, we also, with the cooperation of the mayor and the director, have embarked on the process of finding and implementing effective, sustainable solutions.

Our team of attorneys and staff from both the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office worked hard to complete a thorough and independent review of the Newark Police Department to determine not only whether a pattern or practice of constitutional violations exists, but also to diagnose the causes and factors contributing to that pattern or practice.  We looked at conduct using the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a powerful civil rights law that has allowed us to work toward reform with troubled police departments across the country, large and small, including police agencies in Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as well as the New Jersey State Police.

When we opened this investigation in May of 2011, we set out to uncover the facts and to follow them wherever they took us.  I am here today to report that we have done just that.   

During this investigation, we received information from a variety of individuals, including officers, city officials, community members who have been affected by officers’ actions, and other criminal justice stakeholders.  We examined thousands of pages of documents, including arrest and use of force reports, internal investigation files, shooting review files, and stop and arrest data.  We conducted community meetings across the city to share information about our investigation and to listen to the community’s concerns.  We rode alongside officers in the field and met with police union officials and officers of every rank.  We distributed a community email address and established a toll-free hotline to allow anyone with relevant information to share it with us wherever they may be. 

Through these efforts, we have determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that the Newark Police Department has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests, in violation of the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, and that NPD’s stop and arrest practices have a disparate impact on the city of Newark’s black residents.  In addition, we have reasonable cause to believe that NPD engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force in violation of the Fourth Amendment.  The patterns of misconduct we have found reflect policing that too often disregards the law and alienates the communities with whom partnership is most needed to effectively prevent crime.  We found that NPD conducts pedestrian stops without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.  Overall, officers failed to record any justification for the detention of individuals in nearly one-sixth of NPD’s pedestrian stops during a two-and-a-half year period (from 2010 through mid-2012).  And for stops that had a documented reason, nearly three-quarters of them were constitutionally insufficient.  NPD officers conducted thousands of stops that included warrant checks for individuals whose actions were described merely as “milling, “loitering,” and “ wandering, ” or other similar behavior, without any further indication of suspected criminal activity.

We also found that NPD’s stop and arrest practices disproportionately affect the black community in Newark.  Although black individuals comprise 54 percent of Newark’s population, they account for a significantly higher proportion of stops and arrests: 85 percent of pedestrian stops and 79 percent of arrests.  This disparity does not mean that NPD is engaging, or has engaged, in intentional discrimination.  But it does warrant further analysis and response by the NPD in light of NPD’s unconstitutional stops and arrests practices: it is clear that, whether intentional or not, Newark’s black residents bear the brunt of NPD’s unlawful stops practices.  

We also found reasonable cause to believe that NPD engages in a pattern or practice of excessive force.  A significant portion of force incidents we reviewed appeared to be unreasonable and in violation of the Constitution.  Further, we found evidence of significant underreporting of use of force by officers.  There is a general lack of supervisory review of officers’ use of force, and most use of force investigations were inadequate to support reliable conclusions.  And NPD has done a poor job of identifying unreasonable force: in over six years, NPD sustained only one allegation of excessive force.

We also found reason to believe that NPD has subjected individuals to theft of property and money by officers, specifically in specialized units and the prisoner processing unit.

Contributing to these violations are a number of systemic deficiencies within NPD including: (1) inadequate misconduct investigations; (2) inadequate supervision; and (3) inadequate training.

I want to pause for a moment now to speak to two important groups that are impacted most directly by our findings. 

To members of the community who have shown an interest and aided in our investigation, we thank you for your partnership and support.  With your assistance, we were able to reach Newark’s residents and others who wanted to share their experiences with us.  I want to share my appreciation for your participation and your leadership in the community.  Thank you for coming forward and sharing your stories.  We heard you and we hope to continue working with you to implement solutions.  Together with you, the city, and NPD, we hope to reform and revitalize the NPD, and to give Newark officers the support and tools they need to keep the city safe while guaranteeing our most cherished civil rights. 

To the women and men of the Newark Police Department, we know your work is difficult and that you face dangers, known and unknown, when you hit the streets everyday to keep this city safe.  We recognize that most of you are dedicated public servants who wear your badge with distinction.  We do not intend our findings today to diminish your efforts to protect the people of Newark or to mean that you must needlessly risk your lives or safety.  What our findings do mean is that the city and NPD must do more to ensure accountability and to support you by providing the tools, training, and guidance you need to enforce the law vigorously, while also protecting the public’s civil rights. 

Our findings are set out in writing in a report that we have shared with Mayor Baraka, Director Venable, and other city officials.  And I am happy also to report that we have also entered with the city into an agreement in principle that sets out a roadmap for reform that will be spelled out more completely in a judicially enforceable and independently monitored agreement.  Our findings and the agreement in principle will be posted on the Civil Rights Division’s webpage.  As we work to come to final agreement and select a monitor, we are interested in hearing your feedback and your ideas on ways we can work together to address our findings.  You can reach us by email at community.newark@usdoj.gov.  We will also be holding community meetings in the near future to begin the process of collecting your thoughts and recommendations.

Institutional reform is difficult work and it takes all stakeholders working together to achieve success.  Although much of our work occurred under prior city administrations and leadership at NPD, the mayor and director already have committed themselves toward continuing the work that was begun by their predecessors.  We thank the city and NPD for their cooperation throughout our investigation and as we move forward. 

The goal of our civil investigation and our findings today is to ensure that the police department acts in accord with the Constitution, and earns the trust of the public it is charged with protecting, even as it becomes more effective at fighting crime.  A key part of our task is to ensure that the hard work of the many men and women of NPD who serve honorably is not overshadowed by the unlawful behavior of others or by institutional deficiencies that make an already difficult job that much harder. 

Under the agreement in principle, Newark has committed to ensuring that police officers will get the training and tools that they need to do their jobs in the safest and most effective way possible, and that individuals will get respect for their fundamental right to be treated fairly by police.  At the same time, everyone will reap the benefits of a police force that is able better able to protect the entire Newark community. 

The Department of Justice will remain actively engaged for as long as necessary to ensure sustainable reform and to help restore the community’s trust in its police department.  We will continue to actively engage all stakeholders in the process of implementing a comprehensive set of remedies designed to ensure that Newark’s policing services meet these goals. 

Thank you.

I will now turn the podium over to Mayor Baraka who has some remarks to share this morning.  Thank you for joining us and for your pledge to continue working collaboratively with the Department of Justice as we craft an agreement that will resolve our findings.  Mayor Baraka?

Updated September 17, 2014