NEWARK — Police labor leaders cried foul today over Mayor Ras Baraka’s announcement that he plans to form a civilian complaint review board to investigate allegations of misconduct against officers, saying the move is far from a done deal.
James Stewart Jr., president of the city’s chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, said implementing the proposed nine-member board would alter the police department’s disciplinary process. State law requires that any changes to that process must be subject to negotiations before being finalized, he added.
“I still believe we have a lot of work to do before anything is in place. We have a disciplinary process currently in effect, and it hasn’t been changed,” Stewart said.
At a press conference this morning, Baraka outlined his plans for the board, which would have the power to subpoena officers and certain documents as they investigate complaints against officers involving excessive force, discourtesy or other alleged abuses of power.
However, the mayor admitted that a great deal of work remained before the board could begin its work, including details about criteria for membership and a training process for those eventually chosen to serve.
His office has drafted an executive order that will allow the process to begin, but officials will still need to iron out language that will allow the board to fall in line with both city and state regulations.
“We want to finally get an ordinance crafted by the Municipal Council that will allow us to turn this into law,” Baraka said.
John Chrystal, president of Newark’s Superior Officer’s Association, said he also believes current plans for the board could violate state attorney general guidelines that prevent most internal affairs documents from being released to civilians, and places limits on civilian oversight of law enforcement.
“The police director is civilian oversight of the police department,” he said. “Police misconduct has to be investigated at the police level.”
Baraka said his proposed executive order has been sent to the Attorney General’s office, Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice for vetting. The DOJ is currently preparing to appoint a federal monitor to oversee various reforms in the police department following a report that found it routinely violated citizen’s civil rights and failed to adequately investigate complaints against officers.
In July, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said additional civilian oversight would be among the changes the federal government would like to see enacted to help quell the problems. In a statement, he said that while an agreement in principle his office struck with the city last year did not specifically call for a review board, he was nonetheless encouraged by today’s news.
“We are looking forward to the court-appointed monitor’s working with this new oversight entity to achieve the historic reforms contemplated by our investigation,” he said.
This morning, Baraka said he had met with the FOP prior to today’s announcement, and that he was confident any issues could be resolved.
“I think that people understand that this is where we’re going,” he said. “This is not about a witch hunt for the police department itself, but it’s an opportunity for us to weed out systematic things in the police department that may cause (officers) to violate people’s constitutional rights.”
Dan Ivers may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @DanIversNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.