When US police grappled with the handling of violence, a local law enforcement agency managed to go a full year without any gunshots or deaths – without a single shot fired by officers.
“The Newark Police Division welcomes the concept set out in the informed consent form. I am not sure whether the City of Newark or Newark PD could have come here without a consent form, but they are here,” said former New Jersey attorney General Peter Harvey said.
The transformation of Newark, New Jersey, is perhaps the best argument for the widespread adoption of “consent decrees” – a judicial arrangement between local police and the Department of Justice to implement reforms.
Much like the Minneapolis and Louisville Police Department now, the 2011 Newark PD was the subject of a “Pattern and Practice Examination.”
The three-year investigation found “enormous racial disparities” in arrests, widespread corruption and a long history of excessive violence.
In 2016, just months before President Obama stepped down, the City of Newark approved a court approval decree to overhaul the department. Former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey is the independent observer responsible for overseeing this agreement.
Harvey: It takes a while for the inevitability of a consent decree to kick in. But it is inevitable.
The consent decree required, among other things, new guidelines and training on the following topics: use of force, searches and seizures, unbiased police work, body cameras and internal affairs. The department is now “tentatively compliant” with 40 different benchmarks in these categories.
Harvey: There were people who waited for this because they thought they were cops. You now have something to use to push back the people who want to leave things as they are.
No deaths or firearm use in an entire calendar year were unknown to the city of Newark before reforms were implemented. In 2016, there were a series of seven police shootings in the city in seven months, killing five residents.
HARVEY: Should I use force? This becomes the first question. For Newark PD, they built the first action in the revised application of violence guidelines, the requirement to de-escalate, followed by a decision to use violence, and if so, what level of violence. “
While Newark hit the milestone in December, the celebration was quickly paused. Newark Police shot Carl Dorsey minutes after the New Year started. The shooting is being investigated by the current New Jersey attorney general.
But Harvery says this incident does not affect the progress that has been made.
Harvey: You want cops to protect the public, be trained to make good decisions, knowing that they are not perfect and that they are making mistakes across the board. What you don’t want is willful criminal behavior. How we saw Minneapolis with George Floyd. “
According to the Newark Police Department, overall crime decreased 6% in 2020, driven by a five-year trend in overall crime decline.