Why New Jersey wants to block civilian oversight of Newark’s troubled police force

Why New Jersey wants to block civilian oversight of Newark’s troubled police force

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal speaks during a press conference in Jersey City, N.J. AP photo

TRENTON – New Jersey governor Phil Murphy ran for office three years ago a promise to adopt “real reform of the criminal justice system”. And when the unrest hit America after George Floyd’s murder, the white progressive democrat tweeted a simple, direct demonstration of support: “Black lives count. ”

But just a month earlier, just before the nation began to reckon with police brutality and systemic racism, his government tried to prevent a civilian oversight agency for the long-running police department in Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, from taking power investigators are charged with misconduct.


Gurbir Grewal, Murphy’s attorney general, rejects the proposal because of opposition from community members who have long been seeking powers to investigate the misconduct of officials – and Ras Baraka, the city’s black mayor and influential political ally.

“Ultimately, they have to use this time as a turning point to do the things people have wanted for years,” said Baraka.

The stalemate between the state and Newark underscores the challenges faced by many progressive leaders who pretend to be reformers but do not convey the changes desired by their followers. For Murphy, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, this threatens to compromise his reputation as a racial advocate and complicate his relationship with black leaders who have long supported him.

In the past few weeks, Murphy has been trying to position himself at the top of the group as US and state leaders struggled with longstanding questions about ending racial inequality in policing. The former Goldman Sachs executive, who once served on NAACP’s national board, has worked with Grewal to support major reforms aimed at holding New Jersey law enforcement officers accountable and restoring confidence in the police force.

For the past two years, Grewal’s office has supported Newark Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12’s legal efforts to block a local ordinance of 2016 that allows the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board to preload records and investigate individual officers. Grewal, who is not guaranteed independence from the governor in civil matters, has sided with the Newark Police Union in the fight and has brought up extensive legal arguments that could protect civil servants across the state from civilian oversight.

Newark – a majority minority city – still bears the scars of the 1967 uprising, which was triggered by the violent arrest of a black man by two white officers, and his police department remains undisclosed a federal approval decree occurred shortly after the regulation was passed.

This decree, which required the formation of a civilian supervisory authority, was the result of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice this resulted in Newark’s police routinely violating basic civil rights. The Department of Internal Affairs swept these violations under the carpet and made only one civil complaint about excessive violence by hundreds between 2007 and 2012, a relationship that was “symptomatic of severely disrupted accountability systems”.

Local officials argue that the Murphy government’s opposition to the ordinance is to kneel civilian oversight over the police force while promising systemic reform. Providing the board with such authority would “create trust between the community and law enforcement agencies because they feel there are legal remedies,” said Baraka, who was elected in 2014 after pledging to reform the department.

“At the moment, people don’t trust someone who gets in trouble – doing something wrong with the police – to be treated,” said Baraka.

An appeals court upheld key elements of the Newark ordinance in a judgment last year, including the authority of the board to investigate officials accused of misconduct.

This ruling was appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, and in April a deputy attorney general argued that issuing a law enforcement order would violate state law to prevent “interference and improper interference by the police by civil authorities”. This is the job of the Department of Internal Affairs of the Ministry and the City Public Security Director, the state argued.

Murphy pushed for this issue and called the Newark Civilian Review Board “great success”Although there has been no complaint since the police union filed their complaint. The governor also noted that similar bodies “need to be considered when we think about this mosaic” in order to promote fair police oversight.

In a follow-up statement to POLITICO, Murphy spokesman Jerrel Harvey said the governor believes that civilian oversight bodies can be an important tool to ensure that community members play a role in shaping policing in their communities. There are many different models across the country that confer different powers and functions on the selection boards. Regardless of the model chosen, the governor believes that successful review bodies must be independent and reflect the desires and needs of the communities they serve. ”

Deputy Attorney General Daniel Bornstein, who argued the case before the state Supreme Court, followed a different course less than two months ago, arguing that the transfer of powers sought by the Newark leaders would violate state law to “interference and inappropriate behavior ”to prevent police interference by civil authorities. “

“A civilian review body may only investigate the general police operations,” Bornstein told the court.

However, this is an incomplete picture of Grewal’s position on civilian examination boards.

Unlike other attorneys general, Grewal has the unique power to provide binding guidance to local law enforcement agencies. After Floyd’s death, he announced that new guidelines for the use of violence would be released shortly ordered every department in the state to publish the names of the officers who have committed serious disciplinary offenses – information that was only available when someone was charged with a crime; Steps praised by criminal justice activists and lawyers.

Grewal grew much colder Reception when he exhibited Guidelines for internal affairs and civil examination boards Late last year, shortly after the state’s Supreme Court announced it would hear the police union appeal on the Newark case.

This policy prohibited supervisory boards from maintaining internal affairs records until the unit completed investigations into misconduct by officials. Stymie powers granted to the Newark Examining Board by the Court of Appeals.

In addition, members and staff of the Audit Committee who were convicted of crimes or crimes – even minor drug possession charges – would not be allowed to process domestic affairs documents without the approval of the district attorney and the police officer responsible.

Given the arrest rates between black New Jerseyers and white New Jerseyers, “this would have an extremely racist effect,” said Alex Shalom, ACLU-NJ’s chief supervisory lawyer and director of the Supreme Court Attorney.

Grewal spokesman Peter Aseltine said in a statement that the Attorney General’s Office has no particular concerns about civilian inspection boards that are investigating. Referring to Grewal’s December guidelines, Aseltine said the corporation only opposed these investigations if they “served the purpose of imposing discipline on the officers.”

In particular, the Newark regulation does not give the CCRB the power to offer discipline. It can only use its findings to recommend sanctions to the city’s director of public security.

Anything else would make the board toothless, said Rick Robinson, head of the Newark NAACP chapter and appointed chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

“If you’re spending taxpayers’ money on a company, you’d better believe you should spend it in ways that are effective,” Robinson said in an interview, adding that this is the case given the current national police dialogue about reform : “I really hope that the Supreme Court will actually examine the situation and see what needs to be changed, and help make that change.”

More cities in New Jersey could follow at some point. Earlier this month, the assembly’s member, Angela McKnight (D-Hudson), sponsored the legislation NJ A4272 (20R) To do this, every community in the state would need to set up a review panel to investigate complaints against police officers.

Even as the pressure on local governments increases to increase oversight of local law enforcement agencies, “we believe nothing has changed,” said James Stewart, president of FOP Lodge 12.

“In our view, it is an illegal entity,” he said. “We are more than ready to sit down and discuss reforms with the politicians who are implementing these things.” We only want the opportunity. ”

Previous efforts to bring both the city and the union to the table have been unsuccessful. In 2010, The ACLU-NJ has taken the “last resort” step of the request A federal investigation by the Newark Police Department requesting a review of internal affairs and lawsuit records revealed that officers routinely violated residents’ civil rights. The former mayor Cory Booker said the report threw “unnecessary issues” on the department. Since then he has revoked this position.

Derrick Hatcher, former president of the FOP’s Newark chapter, made the union’s position clear: “We know how to monitor our police,” he told the Newark Star ledger at the time.

Even with the most recent reforms, including those introduced by the Murphy government last month, this status quo will no longer suffice, said Baraka.

“The CCRB must have the right to an investigation,” he said. “Otherwise it has no authority.”


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