Newark Police Placed Under Federal Microscope For Rampant Misconduct

After a lengthy investigation, the U.S. Justice Department has found that the Newark Police Department, the largest in New Jersey, has frequently violated residents' civil rights and engaged in unreasonable use of force. Sarah Gonzalez of WNYC reports that the department will be placed under federal oversight.

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New Jersey's largest police force is getting a federal monitor. An investigation has found that the Newark police repeatedly violated residents' civil rights. Sarah Gonzalez of member station WNYC reports.

SARAH GONZALEZ, BYLINE: An investigation by the Department of Justice and the state's U.S. Attorney's office found that police in Newark have been stealing drugs and money from the narcotics unit, stopping and arresting black men and women at a disproportionate rate and using excessive force. They found that 75 percent of stops made by Newark police were unconstitutional, 85 percent of those stopped were black. In over a six-year period, just one complaint of excessive force was acted upon by the police department.

PAUL FISHMAN: That statistic is stunningly low for a police department of this size.

GONZALEZ: Paul Fishman is the U.S. attorney for the district of New Jersey. He and federal investigators examined thousands of police documents from 2009 to 2012. He says police did not use legal reasons for stopping people.

FISHMAN: Milling in a high-crime area, loitering in a place where drugs are sold, stuff like that that is not reasonable suspicion under the Constitution.

GONZALEZ: Newark resident Angelo Maury (ph) has been stopped by police before. He says he doesn't feel like he can stand on a sidewalk in his city.

ANGELO MAURY: The street's supposed to be for anybody, if you're a taxpayer and if you're black, you're supposed to walk anywhere in the neighborhood. That is terrible.

GONZALEZ: The federal probe looked at the police department when New Jersey's current U.S. Senator, Cory Booker, was mayor. The new mayor, Ras Baraka, has since appointed a new police chief and police commissioner and a new head of internal affairs. Baraka has been a vocal critic of police misconduct for years. He says he's thankful that the federal government has uncovered facts about the police department that Newarkers have long suspected.

RAS BARAKA: One could look at this at 22 days in as the mayor that the roof is caving in, but I look at it as an opportunity to build a roof.

GONZALEZ: The Department of Justice plans to appoint an independent monitor by September to help the Newark Police Department reform itself. This action is similar to agreements reached in New Orleans, Seattle and Puerto Rico. It's expected to take years. Investigators said people who were arrested can go back to their lawyers to refute possible unlawful arrests based on what were unconstitutional stops. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Gonzalez in Newark.

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