Justice Department Resolves Probe Into Newark, N.J., Police
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The Justice Department has reached an agreement with Newark, N. J., to overhaul the city's police force. The settlement imposes new oversight on law enforcement and requires more justification for stopping and arresting people. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: A three-year investigation by the Justice Department concluded that Newark police engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional behavior. For instance, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman says that included stopping thousands of people for no reason other than milling around, loitering or wandering.
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PAUL FISHMAN: Which has promoted a view that living or simply being in a high-crime area is in and of itself criminally suspicious.
JOHNSON: The Justice Department says minorities bore the brunt. Black people were two and a half times more likely to be stopped than whites. Fishman says those stopped helped erode confidence in law enforcement.
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FISHMAN: Community trust has deteriorated and that in turn has compromised the effectiveness of the police department.
JOHNSON: Restoring faith in police and giving more training and support to officers in Newark is a major focus of the new settlement with the Justice Department. Vanita Gupta leads the civil rights division at Justice.
VANITA GUPTA: The agreement that we announced today really reflects an important milestone for the city of Newark for its police officers and for the community.
JOHNSON: Gupta says many officers quietly came forward during her investigation telling stories about quotas that pressure them to write out tickets for quality-of-life offenses, rather than focus their energy on attacking violent crime. That feedback helped shape the Justice Department settlement package. The new agreement would beef up discipline and overhaul search and seizure policies. It would offer new training and require police to wear body cameras, and it would create an oversight group to give people in the community a voice in the process. Sean John who's lived in Newark for 50 years talked with WNYC about the deal.
SEAN JOHN: For accountability purposes, let them come in and do what they need to do, so they can solidify that, yes, Newark Police Department is using the right procedures.
JOHNSON: The Justice Department has selected a former New Jersey attorney general to serve as independent monitor. Newark's mayor, Ras Baraka, says that the city will shoulder the financial burden.
RAS BARAKA: Of course, we're not ecstatic about that part of it, but we think that it's a necessary investment that we need to make to be able to improve our police department.
JOHNSON: The man running the police force says he views the settlement as an opportunity. Anthony Ambrose is acting director of public safety in Newark.
ANTHONY AMBROSE: We have new officers being hired. Bad habits can become old habits. A culture can be changed, so we welcome it.
JOHNSON: The deal requires the approval of a federal judge. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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