U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman Delivers Remarks at Press Conference to Announce Agreement with City of Newark, New Jersey, to Reform Police Department’s Unconstitutional Practices
Newark, NJ United States ~ Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Good morning and thank you all for being here.
We’re here today to announce that the U.S. Department of Justice, acting through my office and the department’s Civil Rights Division, has signed a consent decree with the city of Newark that will create historic, long-lasting and meaningful reform of the Newark Police Department (NPD). Once approved by the court, this decree will serve as a roadmap for reform in Newark and a model for best practices for police departments across the country. And even more important, the changes outlined in the consent decree are designed to give the people of Newark the first-class police department they deserve.
Before we start, though, I want to introduce the three people who are here with me this morning. Vanita Gupta, the head of the Civil Rights Division, has brought great judgment, skill and energy – not just to this effort, but throughout the department’s civil rights work. She and her very talented colleagues have worked hand-in-hand with the wonderful lawyers in my office throughout this matter. Vanita will speak to you in a few minutes about some of the details of the decree and why it’s so important for our law enforcement officers to conduct their vital work in a way that both protects us and honors the Constitution we’ve all sworn to uphold. I also want to welcome Mayor Ras Baraka and Acting Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose. You will hear from them this morning as well. I want to thank them for their cooperation and their serious commitment to the reform process and the success of the NPD. Without that commitment, and that of their staffs, we would not be here today.
As you all know, our office and the Civil Rights Division conducted a wide-ranging, detailed investigation of the NPD. During that investigation, we met and spoke with many members of the force at every level, union representatives, other law enforcement agencies, public defenders, community members, clergy, elected representatives and others. We reviewed thousands of reports, department polices and training records and internal affairs files. Members of the team rode with the patrol officers to see first-hand how they do their jobs and the challenges they face. We consulted with experts from other police departments around the country. And we analyzed data from stops, arrests, occasions on which the police used force and the work of internal affairs.
In part, that investigation confirmed something that we in my office already knew: the men and women who wear the uniform of the NPD bring enormous dedication, integrity and pride to their jobs every day. They joined the force because they have the courage and passion to keep their community and its residents safe, and they do that work at great personal sacrifice and great risk.
At the same time, we also found an organization that is challenged in fundamental ways and has engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing in a broad range of areas. And it is also clear that the NPD’s relationship with the people of the city has suffered dramatically from the combination of those practices. Community trust has deteriorated, and that in turn has compromised the effectiveness of the department. Today we are taking a major step toward breaking that cycle.
One significant problem is that far, far too many police reports have failed to describe a constitutionally adequate reason for stops of people on the street. Some of this stems from a lack of clarity in NPD’s policies and training, which has promoted a view that living or simply being in a high-crime area is, in and of itself, criminally suspicious. We also found that this practice had a particularly acute impact on African-Americans. And some of the people who have been stopped and arrested were lawfully objecting to police action or simply behaving in a way that officers perceived as disrespectful.
The consent decree deals directly with those issues. It requires better training and updated policies, as well as more effective supervision, so that officers understand when they are permitted to stop, search and arrest, and when they are not. The decree requires that the officers perform their duties without bias, and fully respectful of the rights of community members to say what they think and comment on what they see.
The decree also addresses, in great detail, our finding that the police department had a pattern of using excessive force. Use of force policies will be revised; officers will receive enhanced guidance and training on how and when to use force; and reporting and supervisory review will be substantially more rigorous.
Theft of property has also been a problem, and there are remedies for that too. Better recordkeeping and storage procedures, routine and random audits and a stricter rotation system are all outlined in the decree.
We have also agreed on broad reforms to address the systemic deficiencies that contributed to all of these problems. There needs to be more community engagement, with meaningful communication between the department and the public generally, and particularly between the men and women of the department and the neighbors they protect. The agreement requires a more substantial role for civilian oversight, so that the community has more insight into how the department does its work. And the department’s own internal affairs function, which has suffered from lack of training, insufficient resources and incomplete and inadequate investigations, will be completely retooled.
And finally, the decree provides that all of these reforms and changes will take place under the watch of an independent, court appointed monitor. In fact, the decree will end only after the monitor and a federal judge are satisfied that the police department has demonstrated sustained and substantial compliance with its terms – and there are certain specific metrics set forth for that assessment.
After a lengthy and thorough search, the parties – my office, the Civil Rights Division, the city and the NPD – have jointly recommended that the court appoint Peter Harvey, who is a very highly regarded partner at the firm of Patterson Belknap. As many of you know, Mr. Harvey is a long-time New Jersey resident and a former Attorney General and First Assistant Attorney General of this state who has an extraordinary reputation in the legal and law enforcement communities. In fact, during the time Mr. Harvey held those positions he was heavily involved in the implementation of the consent decree between the Department of Justice and the State Police regarding racial profiling. We are confident that Mr. Harvey’s experience, and the high regard in which he is held by the court, make him exactly the right choice for this assignment.
And that assignment won’t be easy. Not because the people up here aren’t committed to change. They are. And not because the members of the police department don’t want it. I know many of them, and they want it too. The officers that I know understand that they are better cops, that they are more effective, that they are safer, that they can do their jobs better if they are more comprehensively trained, if their supervisors provide clear guidance, if standards are transparent and fair and if they have the tools they need to do their jobs.
But we all also understand that all of that works only if it provides a basis to regenerate trust between the police and the community they serve. All of that will take time and hard work. But I’m convinced that this consent decree, together with our collective commitment, will provide the structure and the opportunity to nurture that growth.
I have been the U.S. Attorney for almost six and half years and, during that time, we have had no more important local partner in the fight against violent crime – drugs, gangs and guns – than the NPD. I know first-hand how dedicated and professional its police officers are and I am very proud of the work we have done together.
But I also know how much more effective they can and will be after we implement these changes and reforms. That will take real work: there will be difficult conversations and bad habits can be hard to break. But I am confident that the city and the NPD are committed to making it happen.
I’ve worked in Newark almost continuously for more than thirty years. It is a hub of commerce and transportation, home to a great performing arts center and sports arena, renowned institutions of education and government, of medicine and culture. It has a rich history and heritage going back to its founding almost 350 years ago. It is a great city, with extraordinary people. This city and those people deserve and are entitled to a great police force. It’s our job to make it happen.