He also said that the number of complaints alleging excessive force against officers has declined since 2010 while the quality of investigations has improved. It included 100-page examinations of structural conditions contributing to the conditions that led to the violent uprisings back then, citing inequities in the public school system, housing and employment discrimination and government corruption.
“It’s really important to have clear policies so that if an officer breaks the rules down the road you can hold them accountable,” said Farhang Heydari, a director at the Policing Project who has worked with the city. But even if protests resulting from the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the many other unarmed Black men and women killed by police before and since had never occurred, extreme shifts with regard to police reform between Barack Obama's presidency and Trump's presidency necessitate updates to that 2016 report. In 2016, Camden county also teamed up with New York University’s Policing Project, which acted as a consultant to help update the police department’s policies, including the use of force, which determines what a police officer is allowed to do when interacting with a resident.
The racial disparities in those encounters also persist. “We are angling the numbers to make it look like this is a model city, but I would not want any city to go through what we went through with the change,” said Carpenter in Camden. “I don’t trust this until we get the civilian oversight secured, because the feds can come and go,” Muhammad said. But the problem, then, is the same as the one the public is passionate questioning now. That shift is most apparently when Cobb shows a video to James Stewart Jr., head of Newark's largest police union, in which officers can be seen striking a man and punching him in the head while they're on top of them, even as he tells him he's not resisting. “The police are a very powerful institution, and power corrupts.”. Under Baraka, Newark also established a citizen review board to independently investigate incidents of police abuse. Please don't touch me.". Cobb asks Stewart if what he sees looks like excessive force; without hesitation, the union head replies no. National Guardsmen pointed bayonets at three men arrested during July 1967 riots in Newark. “They want to tell CNN and all these big places that the city is rising, the police force is perfect and it’s a bunch of bullshit,” he said, standing outside a historic site at a protest in Camden last week. Zayid Muhammad, an organizer for the Newark Communities for Accountable Policing, said an effective civilian complaint review board was essential to restoring the public’s faith in the police and making sure the department maintains its new path after the consent decree is deemed completed. “We don’t have a contentious relationship,” Baraka said of the police department. The statistics touted as success can feel like an insult as families struggle to survive. I don’t need a police officer coming here harassing a young person for smoking a cigarette.”. But for the people living in these cities, the trauma of violence is still palpable and brutality incidents are still a reality. Camden and Newark have had two distinct approaches to changing their police systems. "The police represent a larger system … they're enforcing these people's values, right?" Brian O’Hara, a police captain in the Newark Police Department who oversees enforcement of the consent decree, said that it was a combination of community and police that had made the city safer. In the scene, the officers Cobb accompanies surround a Black man who was simply walking home, wrestle him to the ground, cuff him and rough him up as they go through his pockets, only to release him when they didn't find any weapons or drugs. In 2016, police stopped 2,086 people and used force 294 times, according to the department’s data. “It’s because they’re building systems above the problem. “When there’s still racial disparities in stops and uses of force, it undermines all those attempts to build community relationships,” Chen said. In response, city officials came together to enact a new plan: disband the city police, including the expensive police union contract, and rehire more police under the local county jurisdiction of the same name. The crime rate is at a 50-year low, and excessive force complaints (which are reported from the police department itself) have dropped from 64 to three in two years, according to a country spokesperson. “This city has been through so much stress and trauma – in so many ways it’s a broken city with broken people,” said Ojii Baba Madi, a minister at nearby Asbury community church and Camden native. “My general impression of the cops is you don’t feel safe around them, you don’t trust them,” he said. Last year, his parents, who are now activists, helped him get an internship in City Hall, where he met Ambrose and had some positive interactions with the police brass. And this loss likely is due to the lobbying efforts of the board's most vociferous opponent, Newark's police union. Peter Harvey, the first African American to serve as New Jersey’s attorney general and now the court-appointed monitor overseeing Newark’s compliance with the consent decree, said its officers “are not acting like an occupying force in the community — a much different relationship than five years ago.” But he said the department has not deployed systems to allow commanders to quickly analyze officers’ behavior.
By continuing to work with federal oversight agents who came to Newark after the 2014 report, the city has implemented extensive training to help officers understand new standards and what they can do within the law. While crime has dropped in Newark and Camden, some say that’s simply a reflection of a national trend – US crime has dropped more than 50% since the early 1990s – and not specific to police reform. He described getting a “rough ride” in a police car without a seat belt after a 2018 arrest on a misdemeanor assault charge. The board, meanwhile, has been left largely toothless during the legal battle, monitoring the progress of complaints submitted to the department’s internal affairs unit.
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