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New Police Reforms in Newark May Hint at Chicago’s Future

McCarthy’s former department will be under federal monitoring for at least five years.

Former Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy   Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

First Garry McCarthy ran the police department. Then the ACLU filed a lawsuit. Then the Department of Justice came knocking.

Sound like Chicago? It is, but it is also what happened in Newark—about four and a half years before us.

The results of that Department of Justice probe are now codified in a reform agreement announced this week, which includes sweeping accountability reforms and federal monitoring that could cost Newark up to $7.4 million over the course of the agreement.

In May 2011, McCarthy stepped down from his post as police director in Newark to become Chicago’s police superintendent; within a week, the Department of Justice had announced a civil rights investigation of the Newark Police Department. Four years later, McCarthy was forced out in Chicago, and again his departure was closely followed by a federal probe, which is ongoing.

In both Newark and Chicago, McCarthy employed data-based policing techniques that provoked complaints about racial profiling, even as they reportedly reduced crime.

McCarthy and his supporters have argued that aggressive policing and “broken windows” strategies work. In Newark, a city with a murder rate about twice Chicago’s, McCarthy used CompStat—crime-tracking software favored by his friend and former boss, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton—and flooded high-crime areas with police. He presided over a 46 percent drop in shootings over four years.

Using similar tactics in Chicago, McCarthy pressured officers to increase street stops, which increased more than 50 percent in his first two years. Police said Chicago saw a 38 percent overall crime drop between 2011 and 2015. (But, as ​Chicago​ first reported in April 2014, some of these drops may have been exaggerated.)

The Justice Department’s probe found widespread unconstitutional practices in Newark, much of it during McCarthy’s command. Seventy-five percent of Newark police stops lacked legal justification, and these stops disproportionately affected African Americans. The Justice Department also claimed that the department’s policies “effectively promote[d] a view that living or simply being in a high-area is criminally suspicious.” Meanwhile, the ACLU of Illinois uncovered evidence of similar issues in Chicago, finding that police conducted 250,000 stops without arrests during the summer of 2014, four times the rate of stops at the height of New York’s controversial “stop and frisk” program.

In Newark, the Justice Department also found a “pattern or practice of unconstitutional force” and faulted an internal review process that sustained only one civilian use-of-force complaint during a six-year period that included McCarthy’s entire tenure. In Chicago, less than two percent of complaints filed between March 2011 and September 2015 resulted in disciplinary action, according to police data obtained by the Invisible Institute.

As part of the reform agreement, Newark’s police department must now make over 50 changes to its use-of-force policies, including limits on firing at vehicles, mandatory reports every time an officer points a gun, and stricter limits on both lethal and nonlethal force. A former attorney general was tapped to be the department’s federal monitor for five years—more if the reforms are not sufficiently implemented.

A legal expert told the Tribune that reforms and monitoring in Chicago could come close to $100 million, but the Newark agreement caps the expenses for the first five years at $7.4 million. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said he was “not ecstatic” about spending that much money, according to the Associated Press, but Baraka said the changes could save the city money through fewer police complaint lawsuits, which cost Newark $5 million from 2007 to 2009. (Chicago paid $5 million in its Laquan McDonald settlement alone and since 2004 has paid more than $660 million in police misconduct settlements.)

New interim police superintendent Eddie Johnson must now confront a surge in homicides while addressing rising public anger over police misconduct. The previous interim superintendent, John Escalante, said last month that he would expand the use of CompStat, but Johnson hasn’t yet commented on specific strategies, only that, “We’ll talk about what’s gone well and what’s gone wrong and how we can make things right.”

Andrew Fan is a reporter with City Bureau, a Chicago-based journalism lab.

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