Justice Department reaches settlement with Newark over decades of police misconduct

The settlement follows decades of alleged civil rights abuse

US Department of Justice officials and the city of Newark, New Jersey, announced a settlement to resolve decades of “unconstitutional misconduct” by the Newark Police department — including unjustified stops, excessive force, racial and gender bias, and retaliation against residents who questioned police actions.

Provisions of the settlement agreement, announced Wednesday, call for massive reforms to the Newark Police Department, such as re-training police to ensure stops and searches are constitutional, use of in-car and body-worn cameras, revision of disciplinary procedures for police, and community oversight.

The implementation of the reforms will be overseen by former state attorney general Peter C. Harvey over the next five years. 

Head of the Civil Rights division Vanita Gupta called the agreement an “important milestone” and “new beginning” for the city, adding that it “holds the potential to make Newark a national model for constitutional, effective, and accountable community policing in the 21st century.”  

In the 49-page report, published July 2014, the DOJ said that 75 per cent of Newark police officers “failed to articulate legal basis sufficient legal basis” for pedestrian stops. Police described such offenders as “milling,” “loitering,” or “wandering,” but gave no indication that those stopped gave them reasonable suspicion for criminal activity.

Newark Police were also found to stop black residents at a disproportionate rate. “As a result,” the report states, “black individuals in Newark bear the brunt of the NPD’s pattern of unconstitutional stops and arrests.” 

The DOJ also alleged that Newark Police detained and arrested people who “lawfully object to police actions.” 

Other concerns in the report included how Newark police dealt with victims of sexual assault and trauma, which DOJ attributed to ignorance and gender bias. “Specifically, there is evidence that some NPD officers and detectives have made mistaken assumptions about who can or cannot be a ‘true’ victim of sexual assault,” including sex workers, employers nightclubs or “adult establishments,” and women who consumed alcohol. The report added that the NPD had not provided support for sexual assault victims to cope with their trauma, such as counseling or a competent liaison. 

“The City of Newark is diminished,” the DOJ said in the report, “and the NPD rendered less effective, by these patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct.” 

Gupta expressed excitement for the future of Newark in her Wednesday statement. 

"This agreement creates a framework to begin rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the community it serves," she said. "Whether officers or civilians, we all want safe, thriving, and prosperous communities where residents and law enforcement officers work hand-in-hand to ensure peace, stability, and safety."