Why I wrote the letter backing ACLU’s petition for federal investigation of the Newark Police Dept.

I authored and mailed a letter to Thomas E. Perez, Esq., the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights supporting the recent petition by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of NJ for a federal investigation into the Newark Police Department (NPD). I was pleased to be supported in that action by five of my colleagues on the Newark City Council, a majority.

I did so in full knowledge that the overwhelming majority of the men and women that serve in the NPD do so in an honorable and distinguished manner.  They put their lives on the line every day for me and the other 280,000 residents in our great city.  They are homeowners, coaches, and leaders of philanthropy in our metropolis. My colleagues and I are humbled by their service and their sacrifice.  

But, as a councilman, I also receive too many complaints about citizen abuse at the hands of the police, which our city cannot afford or tolerate.  I feel that the expertise and authority of an outside monitor to reform our department where needed will help to end the problems of police-community relations in Newark, which affects public safety and the quality of life on many levels. In short, we will never be able to continue to drive crime down beyond the admittedly record level of reductions over the last three years unless average citizens get more involved in reporting crime and joining the NPD as active eyes and ears to those that commit them. And they will not until they are assured that bad cops that abuse their authority are appropriately punished and/or drummed out of the ranks of the NPD when deserved and warranted.

This is not a new phenomenon in the city of Newark.  Indeed, I supported the re-nomination of Police Director Garry McCarthy due to his historic lowering of violent crime statistics in the last three years, but also due to his proposed courageous community relations/community engagement reforms that he has taken a year and a half to develop. He is the first Director to acknowledge the problems in the department AND to propose solutions. But this is an endemic problem that has lasted unabated, unchallenged and unaddressed for over 40 years through several mayors, city councils and police directors. And the city council that has oversight of the Administration does not have the power under our enabling statute, the Faulkner Act, to create what it would take to have effective oversight over these problems (a point I will address with our state legislative representatives before the year is out).  

Until such time that the state empowers the city council in Newark to create systems of accountability such as an Independent Monitor with a Citizen Review Board empowered with real subpoena and investigatory powers, I think a federal investigation that will propose institutional changes and correct old bad policies with real oversight is the way to go.

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