Mayor Ras J. Baraka and other other officials recently held a press conference to discuss the City’s next steps after the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision limiting the powers of the police Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), on the front steps of City Hall.
“We are going to fight this case,” Baraka said. “We are already working on a strategy to take it to a higher court. We are already working with legislative delegations so that every municipality in the state can have a Civilian Complaint Review Board, and we’re going to win. It is incumbent on us to win together.
In their ruling last week, the State Supreme Court severely restricted the powers of CCRBs, denying them the power to subpoena documents and conduct simultaneous investigations as Internal Affairs Bureaus.
During the press conference, Baraka called for the New Jersey Legislature to pass bills that would empower Civilian Complaint Review Boards across New Jersey with the powers the State Supreme Court denied them. He also appealed to the “good officers” to “stand with us.”
“We want to appeal to officers to come to work with integrity and goodness in their hearts,” the Mayor said, “to those who wear the uniform with dignity, those who go home every night and those who have their children look up to them because they know they are helping people.”
Baraka said he spoke to several mayors who also wanted CCRBs with subpoena power.
Both Mayors Steve Fulop of Jersey City and Dwayne Warren of Orange, who spoke at the press conference, concurred with Baraka.
“With no movement on this from Trenton, as two of the state’s largest cities, we feel compelled to come together to make sure there’s accountability by publically calling on the state officials who were elected to protect the public and create change where necessary,” Fulop said. “If officers are allowed to carry guns, make arrests, and are responsible for our public safety, they should also be held accountable, and there’s no reason why the citizens shouldn’t be allowed to ensure there’s a healthy check and balance.”
“Police perform their duties under the authority of the people – this is at the heart of the demand for a Civilian Complaint Review Board. The goal is to allow the public to help create a balance between police practices and community standards,” said Warren.
“Newark’s case should be watched by all municipalities – as it will serve as a catalyst for state legislation that empowers municipalities to adopt a CCRB if the community feels the need to do so,” he added.
Amol Sinha, the Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ, said the civil rights organization fully supported Mayor Baraka’s effort.
“The ACLU-NJ has worked throughout its six decades to fight police misconduct – through litigation, campaigns, and research, all with the goals of countering police abuse and racial profiling, and building police accountability, transparency, and reform,” Sinah said. “New Jersey stands at a pivotal moment, in which the Supreme Court has provided guideposts to the Legislature that lead toward strong civilian oversight with full investigatory power and the promise for true accountability to communities. We are proud to stand with Mayor Baraka, the people of Newark, and all of those who stand with us in our call for civilian oversight.”
Mayor Baraka urged all New Jersey residents, especially Newarkers, to join the fight “to do what is right.” The city is unveiling a social media toolkit, #WENEEDCCRB, which will enable elected officials, organizations, supporters, and residents to make social media posts in support of the CCRB, creating a virtual platform for the campaign.
In a statement, CCRB Chairman Richard Robinson said the board will function “with even more vigor” to prevent incidents such as the police killings death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and just, this week, the shooting of Jacob Blake of Kenosha, Wis.
“Stripping the CCRB of subpoena and concurrent investigative powers may seem damaging right now, but we are still moving forward, in terms of operations,” Robinson said. “As Chairman, I am honored to work with Commissioners who are highly intelligent, with a staff that is extremely competent, and with our residents, who believe in our much-needed service. Our mission is not to just address misconduct activities by Newark Police Division members, but to establish better communications and foster a better relationship with our Law Enforcement brothers/sisters and the Newark community.”