Federal monitor discusses challenges to reforming Newark PD

For the last two years the Newark Police Department has operated under a federal consent decree deploying new policies and training and working to change the very culture that got the force in trouble. But as Newark’s Independent Monitor Peter Harvey tells Correspondent Michael Hill, real change takes time.

Hill: Mr. Harvey, once again thank you very much for joining us. I have something I want to read to you here. This is from the executive summary of the third quarterly report. It’s fairly long, so bear with me here if you would, please. The report reads, talking about Newark’s revised use of police force, actually its first bias-free policing policy, it says, “Despite this achievement, NPD,” or Newark Police Department, “still lacks capacity to complete most of the tasks required in both the Consent Decree and the Monitoring Team’s First Year Monitoring Plan, particularly with regard to policy writing, training and data systems improvements. At this point, the City has not committed to proactive, long-term planning to obtain the resources necessary to achieve full compliance. This has slowed police reforms, and jeopardized NPD’s ability to achieve compliance within the five years allocated by the Consent Decree.” That’s heavy.

Harvey: It is, but it’s accurate. Let’s deal with policy writing. The Newark Police Department has never really had any policy writers. These are specialized tasks that you need people to help you with. In some cities, they’ve hired civilians. They’ve hired lawyers, they have hired other police professionals to help write policies. Same thing with training. This is not a PowerPoint where you stand up at a board and you just click through a PowerPoint. This training involves scenario. I’ll give you an example. For use of force training, what we are asking Newark to do is take video scenarios of other cities where people have been shot, people have been killed, people have been stopped inappropriately, where the mentally ill have been approached inappropriately, and let’s play those examples to Newark police and let’s ask them, in this example at this point, what do you do. A, B, C, D? And, if one of those answers is right, why is it right? If three of them are wrong, why are they wrong? That’s adult-based learning. There’s no one at NPD who can do that. We have to bring in outside experts. Now, to Director Ambrose’s credit, he’s identified these professionals to bring them in. One of the impediments that he faces is there are people in the administration, not the mayor, people in the administration who are not particularly helpful with respect to signing contracts and engaging these individuals so that they can come into the city.

Hill: Why are they not helpful? What do you mean by that?

Harvey: Well, I think sometimes people think that you can save money by no action or you can save money by simply delaying the action that you know is inevitable. What we have tried to do is find private sources of funding. We’ve tried to find governmental sources of funding. But at the end of the day, the city has to pay for this. And every city has had to pay for this, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, Los Angeles. We can go on and on about the cities under a consent decree that have had to pay for these experts. There’s a finite universe of people who know how to do this, and by the way, it’s cheaper to let them do it, because they already have the structure of the training developed. They can make it and tailor it to be Newark-specific working with Newark police officers, but you got to hire them.

Hill: What about this statement: “It jeopardizes NPD’s ability to achieve compliance within the five years allocated by the Consent Decree.”

Harvey: Well, I’ll tell you this: if you read the consent decree, it has some very aggressive timelines. I’m not sure that I would’ve agreed to them. I’m not sure if I were in the Department of Justice I would’ve asked for them, and I’ll give you one example. When a policy is written, the consent decree requires that Newark train police officers in 30 days. Now think about this. There are 1,100 police officers in the city of Newark. If you want the kind of scenario-based, adult-based learning we want, and that really helps an officer learn, you can’t put 100 officers in a classroom or 150 officers in a classroom and give them a PowerPoint. That’s not real training.

Hill: I notice that you have a compliance chart right after the executive summary. There are 15 items in that compliance chart, and noncompliance shows up 10 times.

Harvey: This is very common, though. Don’t be alarmed by it. This is very common in the early stages of a consent decree. It takes a while for a police force that is reforming itself to catch up to the requirements of a consent decree. Now, here’s the good news. We have a police director here who is firmly committed to these reforms. Secondly, he has reconstituted the consent decree compliance unit and we have real good leaders in there now and real good officers in there now that are better, I might say, than the first iteration of this consent decree compliance team. They have been working extremely hard on policies. They’re working very hard on training as well.

Hill: Mr. Harvey, you are asking, or you are going to ask, the new governor for additional funding for the Police Institute at Rutgers School of Criminal Justice.

Harvey: It might be reduced to a beg. Yes, I do intend to ask.

Hill: And you want that for Newark Police Department, but also for other police departments throughout the state.

Harvey: Think about it this way, if I’m a chief in a city and I look at what happened in Newark or I look at what happened around the country and I say, ‘I don’t want this to happen in my town,’ where do I go to get examples of modern policing policies? Where do I go to get modern training for my officers? Well, what was formerly known as the Rutgers Police Institute, I think it’s called now Centers for Policing, still at Rutgers University, they can be that resource and it doesn’t cost a lot of money to do it.

Hill: Mr. Harvey, always a pleasure, thank you.