Reform Works: For The First Time EVER, Newark Cops Go An Entire Year Without Firing Their Guns, Being Sued

from the 'impossible'-they-claimed-while-it-happened dept

Talk of police reform has escalated over recent years. It reached an inflection point after the killing of an unarmed black man by a white Minnesota police officer last May. Since then, a lot of proposals have been put forward, but very few have passed without being stripped of anything useful.

What’s being asked doesn’t make it impossible to be a cop, no matter what law enforcement and union officials may claim. There’s definitely room for improvement and giving taxpayers better, more accountable cops is something that will likely pay for itself, especially in cities where millions of dollars of lawsuit settlements are paid out to victims of rights violations and excessive force every year.

The Newark, NJ police department had plenty of problems. It still has a few, but it has shown dramatic improvement. A federal consent decree put in place following a DOJ investigation has started to pay off. The ACLU demanded an investigation into the Newark PD back in 2010, pointing out an alarming pattern of abuse by officers.

The ACLU-NJ identified at least 407 allegations of NPD misconduct over a recent 2.5 year period, including police shootings, sexual assault, beatings of prisoners, false arrests, reckless high-speed driving, and discrimination and retaliation against NPD’s own officers by their superiors. It also details almost 40 lawsuits resolved at a taxpayer cost of at least $4.8 million during those same 2.5 years, and describes almost 40 other misconduct lawsuits that are still pending in federal or state court.

The DOJ opened its investigation in 2014. In 2016, a consent decree was put in place after the DOJ arrived at the same conclusion the ACLU had more than a half-decade earlier.

The agreement, which is subject to court approval, resolves the department’s findings that NPD has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional stops, searches, arrests, use of excessive force and theft by officers in violation of the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments.  

In the intervening years, there have been more problems. In 2017, an off-duty officer killed his estranged wife and injured another man. Another officer was recently indicted for manslaughter and assault after he shot into a moving vehicle during a pursuit, killing one of the people in the car. Notably, no other officer opened fire, despite claims by officers one of the occupants had a gun. And the department was sued over another controversial killing that occurred shortly before the consent decree was put in place.

But here’s the good news. The reform efforts appear to be having a positive effect. For the first time in ever, the Newark PD rang up a couple of notable zeroes.

Newark Police officers did not fire a single shot during the calendar year 2020, and the city didn’t pay a single dime to settle police brutality cases. That’s never happened, at least in the city’s modern history.

And, despite arguments to the contrary by the noisiest police voiceboxes, these reforms didn’t make it impossible to effectively fight crime.

At the same time, crime is dropping, and police recovered almost 500 illegal guns from the street during the year.

Reform isn’t zero sum, no matter what vociferous opponents to almost any police reform efforts may claim. Violating rights and deploying force irresponsibly is not inseparable from “effective” law enforcement or deterrent efforts. Cops can fight crime and stay on the right side of the Constitution. Cop guns don’t need to be “discharged” to keep the peace.

One key aspect is the Newark PD’s abandonment of old training programs — ones that instilled a warrior mentality, rather than one that recognized cops serve and protect residents, rather than go to war against them.

Training is critical, too, especially on de-escalating violence. Brian O’Hara, the deputy chief overseeing training, said the old-fashioned version was to show officers how to win a confrontation, when to make the move. “It was a paramilitary kind of training, just focused on stopping the threat,” he said.

Now, the model is to calm things down, engage the threatening person, while creating distance or taking cover, and buying time until reinforcements arrive, he says. Newark officers view videos presenting challenging scenarios, offer responses, then discuss it with supervisors.

“It’s not about resolving the situation as quickly as you can,” O’Hara says. “It’s about protecting the sanctity of every life.”

If this can work here, it can work elsewhere. And, it must be noted, the Newark PD rang in the new year with a fatal shooting of a citizen. but this is a huge improvement.  

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes the federal government stepping in to provoke (and enforce) needed reform efforts. Under Trump, policing the police was largely abandoned. This has set the clock back on better policing. Moving forward, law enforcement agencies with histories of abusive practices will hopefully be receiving more visits from the DOJ’s dormant Civil Rights division. The DOJ is far from perfect — and houses its own fair share of abusers — but it’s one of the few entities that have been able to force the institution of needed reforms. Hopefully there will be more of this — and more success stories to report — in the future.

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Comments on “Reform Works: For The First Time EVER, Newark Cops Go An Entire Year Without Firing Their Guns, Being Sued”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Cherry Picking

Welcome to other countries that don’t have police brutality as a significant problem I guess. You are right, it wouldn’t apply to the WHOLE country, but you develop responses in regards to the situation, and deescalation is a tactic that works surprisingly often, especially when it’s known to be the normal response instead of guns blazing.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Cherry Picking

I suppose that some progressives are naive, but not all of them. Sorta like what you said about not applies to the whole country.

It follows that some conservatives are naive, but nit all of them.

Cherry picking indeed, as there are plenty of police forces out there that do not care about improving their community or themselves for that matter.

Trump lost, get over it. Your mouth breathers are the naive from both parties right?

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


I’m sure the naïve (i.e. progressives) will embrace this cherry picking as some sort of "sign" that it applies to the whole country.

And I’m sure you’ll cherry pick examples of reform failing as a “sign” that police reform is impossible at a national level.

a good deal of Trump Derangement Syndrome is thrown in

Did he ever seriously try to enact (or push for others to enact) police reforms and law enforcement oversight during his time in office? Because if he didn’t saying he abandoned the idea of policing the police isn’t “derangement” — it’s the truth.

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Cherry Picking

"I’m sure the naïve (i.e. progressives) will embrace this cherry picking as some sort of "sign" that it applies to the whole country."

The rest of the civilized world works just fine with this type of policing. And now, apparently, the US has newark as well. So I guess you define "naíve" as "factually relevant".

But hey, Baghdad Bob, you do you and keep pretending that the US isn’t the festering morass of suck and fail the rest of the world now sees as a fucking embarrassment to civilization.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Cherry Picking

"Interestingly, that’s how the US sees the state of Florida."

Floridas governors are an…interesting bunch. I’m not saying they’ve all been card-carrying white supremacists, just that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they decided "Die Fahne Hoch" was the new state anthem.

I wonder if there’s a decent "nazi rating" you could use to rank states like Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky, etc?

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Cherry Picking

Yes, "Cherry picking" a city with 3x the state average crime rate is a progressive ploy. Every time I’ve been to Newark, I’ve witnessed a pack of cop cars, sirens blaring, racing down a main street. Newark is a high crime rate city. But if it can be done there, it can reasonably be done in many calmer cities and towns.

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TFG says:

Re: Re:

I really wish that someone would do a study that I can find on Detroit PD performance in recent months and years. I know from personal experience that Detroit didn’t see quite the same type of respond to protests when George Floyd was murdered, and I remember someone drawing a line from that to Detroit PD’s practice of actual community policing.

I also remember it being said that said practice was adopted due to the overall lack of staffing the PD has – in order to do anything, they were forced to be in the community, because they didn’t have the bodies to do anything else.

However, I can’t find articles or statements for the life of me that support these assertions anymore. Maybe others will have better success? I’d love to see how my city stacks up next to Newark.

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n00bdragon (profile) says:

You’d think saving millions in lawsuits would be incentive enough but the sad truth is that cities don’t pay for that, the citizens do. If cities sent everyone in town an invoice for their share of every million dollar settlement they paid out you’d see this problem flatline faster than a Prenda lawsuit.

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