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Press Release

Remarks As Prepared For Delivery By U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman On The Results Of The Investigation Into The Newark Police Department

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey


Good afternoon, and thank you all for being here.

We are here today to discuss two things.  First, we want to describe the results of the investigation of the Newark Police Department that my office has conducted together with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. And second, based on the results of that investigation, we are announcing that we have signed an agreement in principle with the city and the police department to make the changes that will give the people of Newark the first-class police department they deserve.

Before we start, though, I want to thank Jocelyn Samuels, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and the members of her staff who have worked on this investigation so closely with me and my office. Ms. Samuels will speak to you in a few minutes about why it is so important that our law enforcement officers conduct their vital work in a way that protects us at the same time it honors the Constitution we’ve all sworn to uphold.  I also want to welcome Mayor Ras Baraka, Police Director Eugene Venable, and Chief of Police Anthony Campos. The city and the police department have cooperated throughout our investigation, and their presence here today reflects how deeply committed they are to this process and to the success of the police department.

The remedial measures outlined in the agreement will include significant changes to the department’s policies and procedures for stopping and questioning people; when and how officers use force; what training they receive; and improving the department’s systems of accountability. The agreement also requires fair application of officer discipline, better data collection and analysis, and more rigorous procedures for safeguarding personal property that belongs to people who have been arrested. The agreement specifically states that we will now turn to finalizing a consent decree that will be filed and enforceable in federal court. That document will require the appointment of a monitor to follow and report on the progress that the city and the police department are making. Finally, the agreement recognizes – as all of us up here know – that the police department needs to have a much deeper relationship with the community it protects.

These steps represent a major commitment to changing how the city of Newark will be policed.

So, why do we need these changes? Why are we here today?

Three years ago, we announced that we were launching an investigation into whether the Newark Police Department had engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing. During that investigation, we met and spoke with many members of the force at every level, union representatives, other law enforcement agencies, public defenders, community members, elected representatives, and others. We reviewed thousands of reports, NPD polices and training records, and internal affairs files.  Members of the team rode with the police to see first-hand what the challenges they face and how they do their jobs.  We consulted with experts from other police departments around the country.

We saw what we already knew in my office to be true:  most of the men and women who wear the uniform of the Newark Police Department bring enormous dedication and integrity to their jobs every day. But we also found an organization that is challenged in fundamental ways and has engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing in a broad range of areas.

Let me start with stops. Over a three-and-a-half year period, nearly 75 percent of the reports of pedestrian stops failed to describe a constitutionally adequate reason for those stops.  To stop someone on the street, an officer must have “reasonable suspicion” that the person is engaged in criminal activity. But the reasons that the police gave for those stops weren’t enough to meet that standard.

Some of this is a lack of clarity in NPD’s policies and training, which has promoted a view that living or simply being in a high-crime area is, in and of itself, criminally suspicious.  But that’s not a constitutional way to police.

We also found that the burden of this practice of stopping people without sufficient reason has fallen most heavily on black people. Eighty-five percent of the people stopped by the police in Newark are black in a city where the black population is 54 percent. So it stands to reason that, if the police are stopping people in Newark for impermissible or insufficient reasons, the people who are most likely to have that happen to them are black.

Let me clear:  we are not saying that this disparate impact is the result of intentional discrimination. There may be other explanations.  But the City of Newark and NPD need to improve the collection and analysis of stop, search, and arrest data to permit more thorough analysis of the racial and ethnic impact of NPD’s police practices, and the Agreement provides for that.

Some of the people who have been stopped and arrested were lawfully objecting to police action or simply behaving in a way that officers perceived as disrespectful. That’s a violation of individuals’ rights under the Fourth and First Amendments. And the city has agreed that this practice has to change too.

We also found reason to believe the NPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of the use of excessive force. Over a six-year period, the NPD sustained only a single complaint that a police officer had used unreasonable force.  While there is no “correct” rate at which a police department must or should sustain these kinds of complaints, that statistic is stunningly low for a police department of the size of NPD.

There are lots of reasons for this problem.  The training on use of force isn’t remotely good enough; the reports themselves have been inadequate; there are a lot of situations in which force has been used and the police simply haven’t reported it; and the investigations by internal affairs have been woefully substandard. No police department can function correctly without effective reporting, supervision, and review of use of force and the city and the police department’s leadership have agreed to fix it.

The investigation also found a pattern or practice of theft of citizens’ property by NPD officers, especially in NPD’s specialized units, such as the narcotics and gang units, and at NPD’s prisoner processing unit. The NPD hasn’t adequately investigated theft complaints, it hasn’t taken corrective action against offending officers, and it has declined to implement even its own investigators’ recommendations to prevent theft. The police department has to adequately screen candidates for specialized assignments, rotate officers, and monitor those whose integrity is in question.

In fact, the entire internal affairs operation of the NPD is in severe need of overhaul.  They need more training; they need more resources; and they need to have a much better system of tracking allegations against officers across the department. The absence of meaningful review has contributed to all of the other issues we’ve identified.

And it is also clear that the police department’s relationship with the people of the city have suffered from the combination of those practices.  Community trust has deteriorated, and that in turn has compromised the effectiveness of the department.

The response to those problems is embodied in the Agreement in Principle that we’ve signed today. This agreement will serve as the framework for a new structure, increased transparency and accountability that is desperately needed to turn this department around.  We are now in position to negotiate the final agreement, including the selection of an independent monitor, but it will certainly include remedial measures to address the deficiencies I’ve just described. Those will include civilian review and community engagement; closer use of force documentation and review; improved internal affairs practices; fair and consistent application of discipline; constitutional stop, search and arrest practices; improved data collection and review; better safeguarding of personal property; and an enhanced early warning system to support effective supervision and management.

The people of Newark deserve to be safe, whether sitting in front of their houses on Bergen Street or walking through Branch Brook Park or hustling to catch a train at Penn Station. So do the thousands of people who come here to work and to take advantage of all the city has to offer. But they also need to know that the people who are protecting them, who are making them safe, are doing this incredibly important and dangerous work while still respecting their rights under our constitution. The Justice Department has a long history of making sure of that. We recognize that great police work is constitutional police work. We are safer, and officers are more effective, when they follow the law.

I’d now like to turn the lectern over to my friend, Jocelyn Samuels, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice to talk about exactly that.

In the last several weeks, since his election, I’ve had a few meetings with Mayor Ras Baraka to discuss this investigation, the agreement in principle, and how we move forward.  I’m confident that he will continue in the same cooperative spirit that we’ve seen from the city for the last three years and that he is committed to the reforms we’re discussing today.  Mayor Baraka.

I have been the U.S. Attorney for almost five years and, during that time, we have had no more important local partner in the fight against violent crime – drugs, gangs, and guns – than the Newark Police Department. I know first-hand how dedicated and professional its police officers are and I am proud of the work we have done together.

But I also know how much more effective they can and will be after we implement these changes and reforms.  That will take real work:  there will be difficult conversations and bad habits can be hard to break.  But I am confident that the city and the police department are committed to making it happen.

I have worked in Newark almost continuously for more than 30 years. It is a hub of commerce and transportation, home to a great performing arts center and sports arena, institutions of education and government, of medicine and culture. It has a rich history and heritage going back to its founding almost 350 years ago. It is a great city, and its people deserve and are entitled to a great police force.

Updated March 18, 2015