By Victoria Cavaliere
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Police in the city of Newark, New Jersey, have enacted new, highly transparent “stop and frisk” procedures that civil libertarians have called a model for the country and an alternative to the New York City policy rejected by a U.S. judge.
New Jersey’s largest city, about 10 miles west of New York City, will on Thursday begin reporting data collected from the first month of its “Police Transparency Policy,” disclosing the race, gender, age and English proficiency of everyone that Newark police officers stop and frisk.
“It really should serve as a model for the rest of the state and even the rest of the nation,” said Udi Ofer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.
The Center For Constitutional Rights and the New York Civil Liberties Union had sued New York City over its “stop and frisk” tactics, and a U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled on Monday that New York City had violated the constitutional rights of racial minorities who were unfairly targeted by the New York City Police Department.
Officers often frisked young minority men or searched their pockets for weapons or contraband before letting them go, in a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment that protects against unreasonable searches and seizures as well as the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, which prohibits intentional discrimination based on race, the judge said in her 195-page decision.
The ruling was a stinging rebuke for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is entering the final months of his 12 years in office, and could trip up NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who President Barack Obama has indicated may be a possible nominee for U.S. secretary of homeland security.
Bloomberg has vowed to challenge the judge’s finding, arguing that “stop and frisk” contributed to the city’s dwindling crime rate, but the judge ruled the efficiency of program was irrelevant.
By contrast, the new “stop and frisk” procedures in Newark were being rolled out just as Newark Mayor Cory Booker seeks higher office in Tuesday’s special primary election to select a new U.S. senator for the state of New Jersey.
Besides data about the suspects who are stopped, Newark will also publish data on the location of every stop and frisk performed, regardless of whether the search resulted in an arrest.
The reports will also include the names of the officers involved and the legal justification for the stop.
The data will be uploaded to the Newark Police Department’s website and viewable by the public on the 15th of each month, with the first report due out on Thursday, police officials said. Previously, officers were required to capture and record far fewer details and the information was released annually.
“I applaud the police department for doing it voluntarily,” said Darius Charney, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and a lead attorney on the case in New York City.
“It also helps the police department, because if they are doing the right thing, if they are policing constitutionally, if they are policing fairly, I think the data will bear that out so that will support and increase the public confidence in the police department,” Charney said.
Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York are among the U.S. cities that publicly disclose stop and frisk information, but all three cities were sued before enacting that policy, he said.
The breadth and frequency of the Newark reporting will be the most comprehensive and transparent by any police department in the country, according to the ACLU’s Ofer.
“We are going to be monitoring the data very closely to see how stop and frisk is being used and who is being targeted,” Ofer said.
After citizens complained of excessive force, discriminatory policing and other abuses by the Newark Police Department, the U.S. Justice Department in 2011 opened an investigation into whether there were “systemic violations” of the Constitution by officers. These results were expected soon.
The Police Transparency Policy will also require the department to make public its internal affairs information, including the number and nature of complaints filed against officers and the outcomes of those complaints.
(Editing by Daniel Trotta, G Crosse)