January 20, 2015
Newark’s leading advocates for police accountability reacted today with caution to the announcement of a planned executive order from Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to establish a civilian complaint review board (CCRB) to help oversee the Newark Police Department (NPD).
The Mayor’s proposed executive order would create a CCRB with the power to receive and investigate complaints—including by subpoenaing documents and witnesses—relating to a broad array of police misconduct, as well as the power to audit police policies and practices. The proposal also includes due process protections for police officers accused of misconduct.
While N-CAP commended Mayor Baraka for taking action to advance the cause of police accountability, its member groups cautioned that the proposal falls short in a number of key measures needed to ensure the CCRB is fully independent and can meaningfully hold the NPD accountable. The measures missing from the proposed executive order include:
Meaningful mechanisms to ensure that discipline sticks when police officers are found to have engaged in wrongdoing;
Secure funding that protects the CCRB from political interference and provides adequate support to operate fully and professionally;
Requirements for CCRB transparency and public reporting to allow for community participation in police oversight.
N-CAP organizations called on Mayor Baraka to strengthen the proposed CCRB before endorsing its establishment in Newark.
“We give Mayor Baraka credit for recognizing the need for civilian oversight of the police, and we believe this proposal creates an important start,” said Melvin Warren, Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, NAACP New Jersey State Conference. “But Newark cannot afford a CCRB that lacks the power to deliver on its promise of accountability. The CCRB must be empowered to make sure that officers are disciplined when they abuse Newarkers’ rights. The days of letting the police police themselves must come to an end.”
Creation of a strong and independent civilian complaint review board with full investigatory powers and independent fact-finding is a central plank of Newark Communities for Accountable Policing’s (N-CAP) mission.
“We need an independent review board with the power to make discipline stick, and with a few modifications, this proposal could achieve that,” said Larry Hamm, Chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress. “Mayor Baraka has fought and marched for police accountability for years. Now he must use this opportunity to lead Newark—and our police department—into a new era of meaningful accountability and transparency. We deserve a police department that will keep us safe and respect our rights.”
The Mayor’s announcement comes as the City and the United States Department of Justice move closer to the appointment of a federal monitor to implement a pending consent decree to oversee reforms of the NPD. A three-year Department of Justice investigation confirmed widespread civil rights and civil liberties abuses by the NPD, including unconstitutional and racially discriminatory stop-and-frisk and arrest practices, excessive use of force, punishment of Newarkers exercising their First Amendment rights, theft by officers, and an anemic, dysfunctional internal affairs structure.
“Newark has an opportunity to seize a historic moment by taking bold action to hold police accountable for misconduct,” said Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Jersey. “This proposal as written falls short of its great potential to provide accountability for police misconduct. The City of Newark should learn from the failures of other civilian review boards across the nation and provide Newark’s CCRB with the independence needed for genuine accountability.”
“The tragic killings of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, reminded the whole country that we have failed to hold police officers accountable when they violate the public trust,” said Milly Silva, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East. “Newark can and must lead the nation forward in demonstrating that communities can play a critical role in holding police accountable, and that, indeed, black lives matter.”
Mayor Baraka’s announcement today also triggered the start of a 30-day period for Newarkers to provide comments to the Mayor’s office on the proposed CCRB. N-CAP welcomed the opportunity to engage Newarkers in a conversation about police accountability and plans to conduct a citywide public education effort to generate support for establishing a strong and independent CCRB.
“Until today, most Newarkers have been left out of the planning for the creation of this civilian complaint review board,” said Emily Turonis, Organizer at the Ironbound Community Corporation. “N-CAP is here to change that. We welcome the opportunity to engage our members, neighbors, friends, and community partners in generating a chorus of voices calling for genuine police accountability. It’s a new day in Newark. The time for change is now.”
N-CAP plans to advocate with the Mayor’s office to ensure that community voices are heard and community input is considered as planning for the CCRB continues.
“Newarkers have been calling for civilian oversight of the police since the 1960s and we will not rest until we have it,” said Deborah Smith-Gregory, President, Newark NAACP. “We cannot settle for partial measures. We must build effective oversight of the police department that becomes permanent in Newark and will outlast any one Mayor or federal monitor. We push forward so that our grandchildren will not have to march the same paths for justice and sing the same songs for their dignity that we have.”
“Police Accountability is a top concern for so many communities in Newark. Whether you’re Black, Latino, a student, an immigrant, LGBTQ-identifying, disabled, homeless, or a parent, we all deserve to be treated fairly and with respect,” said Andrea Bowen, Executive Director of Garden State Equality. “Meaningful accountability will increase public safety by building trust and respect between the police and all communities in Newark.”
Four of the five organizations with appointment authority under Mayor Baraka’s proposed CCRB are members of the N-CAP Steering Committee.
The N-CAP steering committee includes: 1199SEIU Healthcare Workers East, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, Garden State Equality, Ironbound Community Corporation, NAACP New Jersey State Conference, New Jersey Communities United, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, Newark LGBTQ Community Center, Newark NAACP, and the People’s Organization for Progress.