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Stop-and-frisk becomes focus in Newark

Cyril Josh Barker | 3/14/2014, 1:05 p.m.

While stop-and-frisk might seem like an isolated issue in New York City, the controversial practice is starting to take center stage as a growing problem in Newark, N.J.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) recently released a report on stop-and-frisk data by the Newark Police Department (NPD). The report is the first public analysis of the data, which is released monthly on the department’s website. The ACLU-NJ discovered in its analysis that Newark police officers use stop-and-frisk with frequency and in a manner that leads to racial disparities.

“The Police Department’s data reveals disturbing patterns about the use of stop-and-frisk in Newark,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “Newark police make a high number of stops, disproportionately stop Black Newarkers and stop innocent people in the vast majority of cases. These findings raise significant constitutional red flags for the city of Newark.”

The ACLU-NJ acknowledges that six months of data may be insufficient to draw definitive conclusions about the NPD’s stop-and-frisk practices, but the organization believes the issue should be raised by the city of Newark in order to correct the problem.

Every month, the NPD releases information on all stops, including how many people were stopped, where they were stopped and whether the stops led to an arrest or not. The information also reveals what types of people officers are stopping by race and age. The ACLU-NJ, which advocated for the release of the data, hopes the information will give the public a better understanding of how the NPD uses stop-and-frisk.

The data reveals that in 2013, out of the over 15,500 stops, over 8,700 Blacks were stopped and 2,700 whites were stopped. So far this year, over 1,700 people have been stopped, with over 1,200 Blacks being stopped and only 313 whites being stopped. Blacks make up about 75 percent of all stops, while whites make up 20 percent of stops.

“The U.S. Supreme Court made clear decades ago that under our Constitution, police are permitted to stop people only if they have individualized and reasonable suspicion of a crime,” said ACLU-NJ Public Policy Director Ari Rosmarin. “When 75 percent of those stopped in Newark are innocent of any wrongdoing, it raises significant questions about what criteria officers are using when deciding to make a stop.”

The ACLU-NJ commended former Police Director Samuel DeMaio and former Mayor Cory Booker for making the Police Department more transparent and accountable to the public by releasing stop-and-frisk data to the public. The Police Department adopted the groundbreaking “Police Transparency Policy” in July 2013.

“Once fully implemented, the Newark Police Department’s transparency data policy will be a model for other law enforcement agencies in New Jersey and across the country,” said Rosmarin. “We look forward to continuing to work with the department and Acting Director Sheila Coley to ensure Newarkers have access to the comprehensive data and to address the concerns raised in our report.”

The ACLU-NJ is asking the Police Departmen to release more information on stop-and-frisk, including the reasons for the stops, and whether those being stopped have limited English proficiency (in order to understand the impact of stop-and-frisk on immigrant communities), in accordance with the Transparency Policy.

Neither the NPD nor the city of Newark have commented on the report.