What the Investigation of Newark’s Police Department Means for Garry McCarthy

The U.S. Justice Department found a pattern of unconstitutional policing in Newark, New Jersey—and some of it happened while Chicago’s police superintendent was the top cop there.

Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department Garry McCarthy   Photo: Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune

Yesterday, after a three-year-long investigation, the federal government appointed a monitor to oversee the police department in the city of Newark, New Jersey, after the U.S. Justice Department uncovered a “pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing” in recent years—including during the years that Chicago’s police superintendent Garry McCarthy served as that city’s top cop, from September, 2006 to May, 2011.

The Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey announced its investigation on May 9, 2011, just days after Chicago’s newly sworn-in mayor, Rahm Emanuel, selected McCarthy to run the department here. (Investigators in the U.S. attorney’s office first began looking into allegations of brutality, racial discrimination, and police misconduct in 2010. The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union that year also petitioned the Justice Department to begin an investigation into hundreds of complaints of police brutality, wrongful arrest, improper stops and searches, and false arrests.)

“Our investigation uncovered troubling patterns in stops, arrests and use of force by the police in Newark,” Attorney General Eric Holder said yesterday in a statement. “With this agreement we’re taking decisive action to address potential discrimination and end unconstitutional conduct by those who are sworn to serve their fellow citizens.”

Among the Justice Department’s findings:

  • “Approximately 75% of reports of pedestrian stops by NPD officers failed to articulate sufficient legal basis for the stop, despite the NPD policy requiring such justification.”
  • “The NPD stops black individuals at a greater rate than it stops white individuals.”
  • “In more than twenty percent of the NPD force incidents reviewed, the force as reported appeared unreasonable and thus in violation of the Constitution.”
  • “The Internal Affairs Unit (“IA”) sustained only one civilian complaint of excessive force out of hundreds received from 2007 through 2012.”

The full 49-page report and the city of Newark’s agreement for a monitor are embedded below.

The Chicago Police Department did not return requests for comment. The Mayor’s Office did not comment directly about the Justice Department’s findings. It sent this statement: “The Mayor is focused on our continuing work to ensure that every Chicagoan in every neighborhood shares the same sense of security and safety." 

In previous interviews, Superintendent McCarthy had refused to discuss the federal probe and ACLU lawsuit during his tenure in Newark. But when McCarthy was asked by a reporter for the New Jersey Star-Ledger why his internal affairs unit dismissed so many complaints, he  reportedly “shrugged” and replied: “So the cop always has to be wrong? Drug dealers make allegations against police officers every day to stop them from doing their job.”

The Justice Department’s troubling findings about the Newark police force, including its frequent use of improper stops, searches, and arrests and the department’s neglect of people’s complaints—a good deal, but not all of which, occurred on McCarthy’s watch—stands in stark contrast to his rhetoric as Chicago’s police superintendent. McCarthy has talked of “soft policing” and “arresting the right people,” not filling up the jails. And time and again, he has stressed his commitment to “community policing,” that is, officers interacting with neighborhood residents in positive ways.

At the same time, several of the tactics he’s brought here closely resemble his playbook from Newark. At his urging, for example, Chicago police officers have ramped up the use of “contact cards”—forms they fill out on street stops, even when no arrests are made. The forms include a person’s name, age, address, race, and the time, location, and reason stopped. (Police say the cards help them track criminals and gang members.) According to a November 2013 analysis by the Chicago Tribune, officers wrote 600,000 contact cards in the first 10 months of that year, far exceeding the 516,000 cards written in 2012 and 379,000 filled out in 2011, during McCarthy’s first year here. In interviews, a number of African-American men living in high-crime neighborhoods told the Tribune that police often stop them for no reason to fill out contact cards.

Meantime, in early 2013, McCarthy and Mayor Emanuel also rewrote the ordinance that allows police officers to issue “Administrative Notices of Violations,” known as ANOVs. Now, more officers can write tickets for relatively minor, quality-of-life crimes, such as public consumption of alcohol, urinating or gambling in public.

Critics, including the ACLU, say these sorts of tactics violate people’s rights.

Investigation of the Newark Police Department

City of Newark and United States of America Agreement in Principle

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