Court favors Newark in police challenge to civilian board

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A court sided with New Jersey’s largest city Tuesday in a dispute with its police union over the powers granted to a civilian review board.

Newark established the board in 2016 after a three-year U.S. Department of Justice investigation uncovered systemic problems with the police department. That led to federal oversight that is ongoing.

The police union challenged the board’s authority, arguing that it undermined the police department’s own disciplinary processes. Last year, a lower-court judge responded by limiting the board’s investigative powers, including its power to issue subpoenas.

On Tuesday, the appeals court restored some of those powers, including the right to issue subpoenas, hold hearings and investigate misconduct.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said in a statement that the court ruling “restoring Newark’s CCRB as one of the strongest in America is an important step forward in Newark’s successful work to foster cooperation between our police and the communities they serve.”

The court stopped short of validating all the powers granted to the board by statute. It ruled the board’s investigatory findings can’t be considered binding because that would infringe on the police chief’s statutory rights. It also required that the identity of police officers and those making complaints must be kept confidential.

James Stewart, president of the Newark Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 12, said in an email Tuesday that the police department has made significant strides since the release of the DOJ report in 2016.

“The FOP continues, however, to believe that granting subpoena powers to a group of individuals violates the New Jersey Constitution, as well as previous court decisions, and we are already weighing our appeal options to ensure the rights of our members are protected moving forward,” Stewart said.

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