Newark settles civil rights probe into police tactics

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 30, 2016 7:30 AM

By Joseph Ax

NEWARK, N.J. (Reuters) - The city of Newark, New Jersey, and the U.S. Department of Justice have reached a deal to resolve allegations that the city's police department routinely violated civil rights, particularly those of minorities.

The terms of the agreement are expected to be made public at an 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) press conference in Newark, according to the Justice Department.

In 2014, after a three-year review, federal investigators found police engaged in a pattern of unconstitutional practices in Newark, the largest city in New Jersey and just 8 miles (12 km) from New York City, and recommended an independent monitor oversee changes.

At the time, the city agreed to accept the findings of the Justice Department probe and proposed reforms.

"We cannot arrest our way out of the problems we have in Newark," Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said in 2014 of his city, a former manufacturing center that has struggled to overcome its image of urban blight and high crime.

The probe found that 85 percent of pedestrian stops involved blacks, who are roughly 54 percent of Newark's population. It also said officers stole citizens' property, failed to offer a legal justification for three-quarters of pedestrian stops and used excessive force far too often.

The Newark agreement comes amid national tensions over police encounters with minorities, which have sparked frequent protests often led by the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Justice Department has reached similar settlements with other cities in recent years, including Ferguson, Missouri, which initially rejected a deal to reform its police practices before capitulating in the face of a federal lawsuit. The department is also probing the Chicago Police Department in the wake of several high-profile police shootings of minorities.

Wednesday's settlement also comes two years after a federal judge ruled New York's stop-and-frisk policing amounted to illegal racial profiling and ordered a federal monitor to oversee changes.

Newark's city council voted earlier this month to create a permanent civilian complaint board to oversee the police department.

Rebuilding trust between police and residents may take time, however. Marc King, 68, a black resident, said nothing short of a top-to-bottom "overhaul" of the department would fix its problems.

"A complaint review board will fall on deaf ears," said King, as he sat on a bench in downtown Newark on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington, Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by W Simon)