NEWARK – Nearly two years after federal investigators released a scathing report that found the city’s police department regularly violated citizens’ rights, it appears the formal process of reforming the force is finally ready to begin.
Multiple city sources confirmed that the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman’s office are planning a Wednesday press conference to reveal the details of a consent decree that will set specific benchmarks for the department to improve its so-called “stop and frisk” program, internal affairs unit and other problem areas identified in the report.
Released in July 2014, the DOJ’s 49 pages of findings detailed not just misconduct among Newark’s ranks, but systemic failures to stop or punish officers for excessive force, racial profiling and even the theft of many citizens’ property.
Fishman originally estimated that a finalized agreement might be ready as soon as September of that year, but that date quickly came and went without a deal as talks between city and federal officials dragged on.
City leaders including Mayor Ras Baraka have declared their intention to embrace the reforms, and have begun taking small steps toward goals outlined in a preliminary agreement reached in 2014.
Those include plans to hire an attorney to oversee the department’s internal affairs unit and the formation of a civilian complaint review board, in order to implement the DOJ’s request for new public oversight of the department. The board, which would be one of the most powerful in the country, has drawn vocal opposition from the city’s police unions.
The police department’s progress will be overseen by a yet to be named federal monitor, who will be paid by the city to ensure it is complying with the agreement. A list of candidates, including a former state attorney general and an ex-state comptroller, was released last year, though no final decision has been made public.
Matthew Reilly, a spokesman for Fishman, declined to comment Monday.
It also remains unclear how long the federal oversight may last. Consent decrees in other cities around the country have typically lasted no longer than five years, though the New Jersey State Police employed a monitor for a full decade after a racial profiling scandal in 1999.
The Newark Police Department will become the first municipal agency in New Jersey history to require such steps, and the third overall. In addition to the state police, the New Jersey Department of Children and Families has been under federal supervision since 2006 after a lawsuit accused the agency of mismanaging its foster care system.
The city will become the 13th in the country to be placed under a consent decree, joining communities such as Seattle, New Orleans and Albuquerque, N.M.