Justice Department Finds Widespread Constitutional Violations in Newark Police Department

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Justice Department Finds Widespread Constitutional Violations in Newark Police Department

City's black residents disproportionately affected by stop-and-frisk tactics

Newark Third Precinct Police Station. (Photo: Paul Sableman)

A U.S. Department of Justice investigation has found that the Newark Police Department violated citizens' constitutional rights and engaged in a pattern of excessive force, with such practices disproportionately affecting the city's black community.

Among other infractions —such as theft by officers and underreporting of use of force — the investigation found that up to 75 percent of stop-and-frisks in Newark are unconstitutional.

The department must now undergo a complete overhaul, under supervision of the Justice Department.

On Tuesday afternoon, DOJ Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels said in public remarks:

[W]e 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.

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.

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. 

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and the city's police chief Eugene Venable accepted an "in-principal agreement" from the Justice Department that outlines requirements for reform, including strengthened internal monitoring, better training, enhanced community engagement, and oversight by a federal court.

“The City of Newark should welcome this opportunity to establish meaningful reforms of the police department, including creating and implementing policies and practices that will better ensure proper and more productive interactions between police and the communities they serve,” said Ed Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “A partnership between the City of Newark and the Justice Department has the potential to change the police department forever, for the better.”

The news comes as the New York City Police Department is under fire for putting a Staten Island man in a chokehold last week — a practice clearly banned in an NYPD patrol guide. The asthmatic black man was later declared dead at the hospital.

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