Newark police to be monitored by federal watchdog, sources say
NEWARK — The Justice Department will place the Newark Police Department under a monitor later this year, the first time in state history that a municipal police agency will operate under a federal watchdog, according to four sources familiar with the situation.
The decision follows a federal review of the way the state’s largest police force swept aside accusations of misconduct against hundreds of officers and its almost-total failure to address complaints of brutality and abuse lodged by Newark residents over the years.
The investigation began in 2011, a year after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a scathing 96-page petition with the Department of Justice, accusing Newark’s police of rampant misconduct.
The ACLU investigation found citizens filed 261 complaints with the department accusing officers of using excessive force, biased actions, improper searches or false arrests in 2008 and 2009. Only one complaint was sustained by the department.
One officer faced 62 internal affairs investigations during a 14-year career, according to the petition, while Newark shelled out nearly $5 million in response to civil lawsuits from 2007 to 2009.
Federal monitors are appointed by the Justice Department and are usually someone with legal and/or law enforcement experience but with no ties to the agency being scrutinized.
The monitor’s term could run as a long as five years, said the sources who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about the situation publicly. No one has been selected for the position, but an announcement could be made later this month, according to three of the sources.
The exact terms of the agreement between the city and the federal government will be ironed out in a “consent decree,” a legally binding document in which the city will promise to adhere to and maintain whatever reforms the Justice Department orders.
A City Hall spokeswoman said the appointment of a monitor “is likely,” but added that the agreement has not been finalized.
“The City of Newark has been working cooperatively with the Department of Justice in connection with its review of NPD procedures,” said Esmeralda Diaz Cameron, Newark’s chief spokeswoman. “The City and the Department of Justice are working to ensure that best practices are followed within the Newark Police Department.”
When the 2011 investigation was launched, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said the ACLU complaint was not the impetus for the probe.
The ACLU cited a culture of brutality fostered in Newark’s ranks over decades. A subsequent Star-Ledger examination found significant flaws in Newark’s internal affairs procedures under the watch of Police Director Garry McCarthy, who held the position from 2006 to 2011.
From 2006 to 2009, the department received more than 500 complaints accusing officers of excessive force, illegal searches, false arrests or differential treatment, according to records obtained by The Star-Ledger. Disciplinary charges were brought in just six of those cases, according to the records.
A 2010 Star-Ledger analysis of internal affairs records also showed the department failed to report the outcome of one out of every 10 complaints against its officers to the state Attorney General’s Office from 2000 to 2008. All told, the results of 1,315 investigations were not reported properly.
McCarthy, who now runs the Chicago Police Department, could not be reached for comment. Outgoing Police Director Samuel DeMaio and Mayor Luis Quintana did not respond to requests for comment.
While he had no direct knowledge concerning the monitor, the ACLU’s executive director, Udi Ofer, said the department has needed outside intervention for decades.
“This is needed in order to protect Newarkers against future civil rights and civil liberties abuses,” Ofer said. “The Department of Justice findings affirm the findings of our petition, which we filed more than three years ago. It affirms that the problems in the Newark Police Department had been so widespread and grave that they warrant outside federal intervention.”
A last resort
While records show the federal government has launched more than 50 similar investigations into U.S. police departments since 1994, at least 10 have resulted in the appointment of a monitor, which is considered the most extreme result.
The most recent to receive a federal monitor was the New Orleans Police Department, in March 2013. That department’s agreement with the Justice Department called for major revisions to the city’s use-of-force policy and increased training. It also forced the department to publish statistics on arrests and police misconduct.
While it’s unclear what changes will be made in Newark, the department contends it has already made several reforms that have been met with praise from civil liberties advocates.
In August 2013, the Newark Police Department became one of the first in the nation to publish monthly data regarding the result of stop-and-frisk-style inquiries and internal affairs investigations.
DeMaio has also instituted policies that protect the rights of citizens who film police officers while they are on duty and has ordered his officers to refuse federal requests to detain people who are suspected of minor crimes and are in the country illegally.
The 2010 ACLU petition and 2011 federal probe drew mixed reactions from then-Mayor Cory Booker’s administration.
Questioned about the sheer number of complaints dismissed by his internal affairs unit, McCarthy shrugged at the data.
“So the cop always has to be wrong?” McCarthy told The Star-Ledger in 2010. “Drug dealers make allegations against police officers every day to stop them from doing their job.”
Booker, who left the city office to become a U.S. senator last year, also dismissed the ACLU allegations when they were first lobbed. He softened his tone when the Justice Department launched its 2011 investigation, referring to the probe as “free consulting.”
But even then, Booker said he remained opposed to the idea of a federal monitor.
When asked about the pending decision, Booker’s office said while he was mayor the police department began to institute reforms.
“The then-mayor and Newark’s police director partnered with Justice in its inquiry of long-standing complaints against the department and didn’t wait to take action,” said Booker spokesman Kevin Griffis. “They revamped Internal Affairs processes, worked with the ACLU to better inform residents of their rights and improved transparency by installing cameras in police vehicles, among other changes.”
When the agreement is finalized, Newark police will become the third New Jersey agency to require a federal monitor in the past 15 years.
The New Jersey State Police spent 10 years under a federal watchdog starting in 1999 after a racial-profiling scandal, and the state Department of Children and Families has been under federal supervision for 7½ years after a lawsuit accused the agency of mismanaging its foster care system.
Former Newark Police Director Joseph Santiago, who led the State Police through part of the monitoring process and now serves as Irvington’s police director, said his experience under federal oversight was positive. “As the administrator, you can use that to leverage a lot of improvements within the department, things that need to be done,” he said.
“The only practices it should change or affect are the practices that you need to get rid of anyway.”
Newark’s leadership situation, however, remains murky. With Friday's revelation that DeMaio is retiring and a mayoral election in full swing, there is no way to tell who will be running the department once a monitor arrives.
Santiago said that could be troubling to federal investigators and urged whoever wins Newark’s mayoral race to choose a director as open to reform as DeMaio was.
“There might be a concern at the federal level that subsequent leadership might not be as committed as he is,” Santiago said. “You want to re-establish public confidence in the department.”http://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2014/02/justice_department_will_place_federal_monitor_over_newark_police_sources_say.html