Monsignor William J. Linder
Lights, cameras and microphones pointed at the Newark Police Department when authorities announced a long-awaited set of reforms that put the department under federal oversight after investigations revealed abusive policing tactics running rampant in New Jersey’s largest city.
But now that the lights have faded since the March 30 announcement, how will the residents of Newark know what is really changing? How do officials plan to provide transparency and accountability in this effort to reform Newark’s policing practices?
Let me be clear, the problems within Newark police are serious and need to be rooted out. Unconstitutional use of “stop and frisk,” racial profiling, theft and other wrongful practices have eroded the trust of residents, which ultimately, I believe, makes our city, even less safe.
Policing tactics have been under scrutiny across the U.S. for many years and officials admit that many issues are systemic. Newark’s history of distrust between police and citizens goes far back. One of the most iconic incidents took place in 1967, when the alleged beating of cab driver John Smith by Newark police exploded into five days of civil disorder.
Open and proactive communication is a big first step to repairing the trust that’s been broken for many decades. The new reforms require better officer training, a citizen oversight committee and body cameras for police. It all sounds great during a press conference, but what will these reforms look like on the street? What mechanisms are being put in place to enforce changes that initially meet resistance?
The price to reform the culture and practices of Newark police hurts a taxpayer’s wallet. Former state Attorney General Peter Harvey is slated to serve a five-year initial term as monitor, subject to court approval. He has been tasked with assembling a team in his first 60 days and drawing up a monitoring plan over a 90-day period. The cost of a federal monitor, billed to Newark taxpayers, is approximately $7.4 million, according to a report in the New Jersey Law Journal.
It turns out that Harvey oversaw the attempted reform in 1999 of the New Jersey State Police and issues of racial profiling. What was the outcome? We have been given too little information.
The fact that the powers that be have chosen Harvey to reprise his role zaps my confidence in the federal monitor. Entrenched problems in law enforcement are difficult to fix. This type of change will come at no small cost.