The New Jersey Supreme Court rules in a 6-1 opinon this week that existing laws limit the powers of the Newark’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), reversing in part an earlier appellate court ruling.
The Newark CCRB will not be able to issue subpoenas and its investigatory powers will be limited.
In the case Fraternal Order of Police, Newark Lodge No. 12 v. the City of Newark, and represented by Lawrence Lustberg, director of the John J. Gibbons Fellowship in Public Interest and Constitutional Law at the law firm Gibbons P.C., the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) and Newark Communities for Accountable Policing (N-CAP) continued the decades-long fight for a CCRB to increase accountability of the Newark Police Department (NPD).
Newark’s police unions immediately challenged the CCRB’s authority, delaying the city’s ability to implement its oversight board.
“In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, people around the country and here in New Jersey have been marching and calling for an end to systemic racism in policing and for police accountability,” said Jeanne LoCicero, ACLU-NJ Legal Director. “As designed, Newark’s Civilian Complaint Review Board provides a powerful example for police accountability and oversight over misconduct. Today’s decision prevents Newark from fully implementing the CCRB, but residents and community groups have known that this would be a long-term proposition.
For more than 50 years, Newark residents have called for police accountability through a civilian oversight board. In 2014, community groups formed N-CAP to push for civilian oversight of the NPD after a United States Department of Justice (DOJ) report revealed unconstitutional policing practices, excessive brutality and no oversight over the NPD. Less than a year later, in 2015, the CCRB was enacted.
The People’s Organization For Progress (POP) organized a protest against the New Jersey State Supreme Court ruling on Aug. 20 at Newark City Hall. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said in statement that his administration is disappointed in the ruling.
“We need legislators with the courage to stand up to police organizations who oppose civilian oversight to sponsor bills that will enable municipalities to establish review boards with subpoena and investigatory powers,” Hamm said. “We need enough legislators to pass those bills and we need a governor that will sign them into law. However, more than action by the courts and the legislature, we need action by the people.”