Independent monitor says Newark Police need system to track officer behavior

Debra Salters and other Newark residents came ready with concerns, questions, and suggestions to improve policing in Newark for Independent Monitor Peter Harvey.

“They have a license to kill and a badge and a gun, so they need to have a psych evaluation every year, mandatory,” Salters said.

“And the reason why I think it’s going to require legislation is because of union contracts,” Harvey said.

Harvey is overseeing reforms to modernize the Newark Police Division and make its policing follow the law after the Justice Department found a litany of constitutional violations five years ago. Harvey and his team update the public about the progress and problems.

Tuesday night he told a forum that police have completed training on engaging with the public; body-worn and in-car cameras; and stops, searches and arrests. But use-of-force training for 1,200 officers is still underway.

“You give officers scenarios. You say ‘OK, what if this is the case?’ You say ‘what do you do? Your choice are A, B, C, D.’ And they use clickers and they give you an answer and then you have a conversation about what’s right and what’s wrong. ‘Why is it right?’ This is not supposed to be a guessing game,” Harvey said.

The monitoring team says the Newark Police Division has an overall absence of investigative zeal when investigating its own for domestic violence and that leads to stunning findings in favor of officers.

The team said that requires a culture change in policy, training and practice. It recommended conducting all Internal Affairs complaint interviews in private and the interview of officers in person instead of allowing written responses. You could hear the “Amen Corner” at New Hope Baptist Church when Harvey said the consent decree forbids officers from reading complainants their rights and warning them not to lie.

“You cannot treat the complainant as if the complainant has committed a crime. You should respond to the complainant, have an open mind and be neutral,” Harvey said.

Harvey encouraged Newark Police to look to New Orleans for an impressive data system that can track what an officer has done. It’s something that can serve as an early warning system for bad behavior.

Harvey said the Newark Police Division still doesn’t meet even the minimum standards for data system management and that needs to change, but that change needs to come about in a very strategic way.

“You need people who are knowledgeable about police data, law enforcement data, and who are knowledgeable about designing the architecture of computer systems. You hire a team and you get them to design what your system ought to look like,” Harvey said.

A year ago, a judge declawed Newark’s Citizens Complaint Review Board. But Harvey says the board has been active, not hearing cases, but giving input on a half-dozen reform policies.

He also said the federal consent decree does not require it, but Newark Police are developing a policy for officers not to interfere with or confiscate a cellphone camera of someone recording what officers do in public. The cameras that have captured some of the most disturbing police encounters in recent years in other places.