Can the DOJ Correct the Newark Police Department?


A former Newark PD captain says the impending Department of Justice investigation is the newest test of whether police agencies can be persuaded to change their subcultures through performance management principles.

On May 9, 2011, the Newark Police Department became the latest addition to the growing list of U.S. police agencies that are being called to account for their practices by an external government body, when the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) served notice that it was opening an investigation into allegations of civil rights violations and police misconduct.

While the notice holds both symbolic and substantive importance for those inside and outside the agency, the DOJ's intervention is likely to be limited, which may undercut the public's expectations. Nevertheless, how Newark police officials, elected officials and civic leaders respond will dictate the police department's future ability to control crime and connect with the community, as well as shape their image and reputation.

How the Newark Police Department got this point is just as important as the fact that they have arrived.

Although the impetus for the DOJ's investigation was the complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey on September 9, 2010, the appearance of systemic impropriety and a “pervasive feeling of corruption” have shrouded Newark and the Newark Police Department for more than six decades. There is a very well-documented history of suspicion, unethical and illegal behavior, coupled with news accounts of criminal indictments and arrests involving police officers and politicians for colluding with organized crime figures, vice corruption, conflicts of interest and other crimes.

(ED NOTE: For further reading on the subject, please see the notes at the bottom of this essay)

More recent evidence of this seemingly intractable problem surfaced on December 2, 1996, when then-Police Director William Celester was convicted of theft and sent to federal prison. A few months earlier, in a public referendum, Newark citizens voted by a ratio of 2-1 that they had no confidence in the police department?further reducing the department's political and social capital.

On April 16, 2008, the city slipped into further disrepute when then-Mayor Sharpe James was convicted of corruption and sent to federal prison.

The Challenge for the Department of Justice

What makes any DOJ investigation so uninviting is that the incumbent police administration is heir to the legacy of ills that develop over many years, during the tenure of successive administrations that failed to take corrective action.

Correcting the problem will likely take as many more years.

Moreover, the DOJ typically lacks the historical and institutional perspective that shapes the existing organizational culture, and which heavily influences the daily informal operating style of the agency under investigation.

Knowing the factors that contributed to the ACLU's complaint provides a foundation for systematic and permanent change.

Here are some of the principal ones:

Low hiring qualifications: New Jersey Civil Service standards for police officer are exceptionally low. The Newark Police Department is controlled by the NJ Civil Service and cannot raise its own hiring standards without legislative change;

Insufficient training: Few sworn and civilian members receive on-going professional development in the latest advances in criminal justice research, legal updates, public administration and philosophy (e.g., ethics and integrity), which erodes professional acumen;

Negligent retention: Related to hiring and training, permissive personnel policies have allowed members with chronic disciplinary records, some with criminal convictions, to remain employed and to be promoted into executive positions, which erodes confidence in the agency;

Lateral transfer restrictions: NJ Civil Service controls entry into civil service agencies (i.e., lateral transfers) and does not permit members of all ranks to move between agencies of their choice; without legislative change the Newark Police Department cannot acquire suitable police candidates from other agencies;

No recruiting plan: There has never been a sustained and organized recruiting plan, which reduces the agency's ability to target the most suitable candidates;

Restrictive residency requirement: Established in the mid 1970s, this emotional and political policy is not grounded in personal qualifications; without local legislative change the agency's applicant pool is severely limited and suitable candidates are automatically excluded creating a very parochial work force;

Conflicting policies: A General Order policy system that has not incorporated memoranda issued by the Police Director and Chief; these memoranda remain active and are neither merged nor rescinded, they may conflict with existing policy and are scattered leading to confusion;

Insufficient budget: The annual police budget is predictably apportioned at approximately 97% salaries and wages; 1% contracts and services; 1% materials and supplies; and 1% equipment, which is tantamount to systematic disinvestment leaving insufficient funds to manage the agency.

Collectively, these attributes, among others, which are characterized by various acts and omissions, have created an entrenched climate and culture of permissiveness, indifference and provincialism in a city too socially disorganized to correct them alone.

How a DOJ Investigation Works

The DOJ investigation represents a shift away from the individual officer's behavior to the agency's behavior as it is expressed through its policies and supervisory practices.

It is, in effect, an indictment, formal recognition of the agency's inability to manage itself through objective and thorough personnel investigations and policy enforcement. From a distance, the DOJ acts as the de facto command staff, introducing the competence to do what the agency is unwilling or unable to do.

Typically, the DOJ changes the department's organizational plan, policies, oversight mechanisms, training programs and accountability systems in order to counter real or perceived inequities identified in the complaint that amount to a “pattern or practice” of abuse of authority.

The changes may be followed by an aggressive implementation timeline, a court-appointed monitor and sometimes a consent decree—a legally binding agreement between the DOJ and the police department for corrective action—to ensure that anyone who comes into contact with the police department will receive their full constitutional guarantees.

To that end the benefits of intervention are: 1) to permit scrutiny of behavior at the organizational (i.e., policy) not just individual (i.e., practice) level; 2) to apply pressure to force internal change; and 3) to increase the command staff's awareness of actual or potential problems.

To some observers—particularly fellow police agencies—a DOJ investigation symbolizes the lowest possible point in the life of the agency, calling into question the competence of the staff and throwing the agency into disrepute. To others—particularly advocacy groups—the intervention symbolizes the beginning of a renewed relationship between the police and the community.

But the legislation available to the DOJ can only go so far. While it does present an opportunity to reform lackadaisical administrative practices, it can only do so to the extent that each employee embraces and believes in the department's mission, is proud to be part of the department and believes that good performance is meaningful. Otherwise the DOJ's intervention may be more “impression management” than substantive management.

Limitations of the DOJ's Intervention

There is a tendency for such interventions to create false expectations about what an oversight agency can achieve. This may lead to public frustration and disenchantment since the extent of the intervention never appears to be enough.

Without the internal will to change, the DOJ's efforts are limited.

That is because the DOJ does not replace the leadership within the department that is vital to sustained reform. Furthermore, the DOJ's intervention will be constrained by existing state legislation and collective bargaining agreements that will require special state legislation to change restrictive civil service laws, labor agreements and arbitrators' rulings.

The DOJ is also unlikely to mandate additional investment by the city in the department in areas such as recruiting, training, equipment and other infrastructure needs that are vital to sustained progress.

Additionally, there is a degree of uncertainty associated with the intervention. Improper police behavior may not improve. Citizen satisfaction may not improve. The intervention may not be any more effective than traditional internal reforms.

Moreover, political decisions may interfere with the appointment and qualifications of key personnel. Operations may not necessarily create more transparency in policies and practices. Finally, the DOJ may not receive the political support necessary for implementation and maintenance after the current administration leaves office.

Whether the intervention will be effective hinges on how the DOJ defines “effective” from the outset. The question becomes: effective at what?

1. Receiving and processing citizen complaints?

2. Reducing misconduct and corruption?

3. Reducing minor misbehavior (rudeness, demeanor, attentiveness)?

4. Reducing unfounded/unsubstantiated citizen complaints?

5. Increasing citizen reporting?

6. Increasing sustained citizen complaints?

7. Improving investigation procedures?

8. Improving police-community relations?

9. Increasing the vigor and thoroughness of investigations?

10. Increasing discipline against officers?

11. Dismantling the perception of a “blue wall” of silence; “cover up;” “taking care of their own;” and “kangaroo court”?

12. Improving communication throughout the investigation process among oversight members, officers and citizens?

13. Vindicating police officers unjustly accused?

14. Creating a more reliable and just internal affairs division free from the chief's influence over police officers?

15. Increasing public trust and confidence in police?

16. Reassuring complainants by placating them at the initial investigation stages?

17. Influencing police policy and practice through feedback from investigations?

18. Reinforcing the limits of police authority?

19. Revealing and correcting objectionable departmental practices and policies?

Effectiveness must be adequately defined to avoid ambiguity and false impressions. Once effectiveness is defined, measuring it must occur. But what measures of effectiveness are appropriate? Total number of officer complaints? Do more complaints necessarily mean more misconduct, or do they mean better reporting through increased trust and confidence in the department?

In New Jersey, where the chief retains statutory authority over personnel for discipline (see N.J.S.A. 40A:14-118)—not the DOJ?effectiveness depends on the extent to which positive and negative discipline are acted on as part of a rational management system.

Neither perfunctory rules and regulations imposed by the DOJ, nor the promulgation of a vague vision statement is likely to stimulate the type of change the DOJ, the ACLU and Newark citizens are looking for, which may call into question the depth of the intervention.

A Way Forward

The Newark Police Department should adopt a policy of performance management. As I have written in an earlier essay on the subject, in Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management [33(1): 6-29], “Performance management is a systematic effort to improve performance through an ongoing process of establishing desired outcomes, setting performance standards, then collecting, analyzing and reporting on streams of data to improve individual and collective performance”

A multidimensional performance model accounts for practices beyond just crime control, such as delivering public value though budgeting accountability, reverence for law and authority and satisfying customers through service and accountability.

Such a multidimensional performance model was implemented in the Los Angeles Police Department with great success.

The DOJ is likely to order the Newark Police Department to collect data to report on progress. But the department should devise a total quality management strategy and go beyond what the DOJ requires to ensure each dimension of the agency is consistently measured so performance can be improved.

Performance management is a departure from the outmoded command and control model, which does little to respect individual talent as the primary means of achieving desired outcomes that are consistent with the agency's mission. The framework logically connects what the police intend to achieve with what they actually achieved through empirical measures, better enabling them to account for their performance in a public forum and develop internal capacity to deliver services.

It also represents an opportunity to capitalize on individual talent, where employees at every level are accountable for speci?c goals instead of perfunctory rules.

Click here for more about performance management in police agencies.

Will DOJ Intervention Work in Newark?

Evidence about whether DOJ intervention has resulted in more effective or more responsive police departments is anecdotal. As best as can be determined, empirical studies and outcome assessments on the impact of DOJ intervention have not been conducted.

The anecdotal evidence suggests that after DOJ intervention, police agencies are better at investigating themselves, better at collecting necessary data to identify personnel at risk, and more attentive to established constitutional rights.

However, few police agencies that have undergone DOJ intervention are as old, or have the sullied past that the Newark Police Department does. Just how that deep-rooted legacy and the resulting organizational culture will affect the DOJ's plans and intentions will make for an interesting observation.

If the DOJ is successful, then there will be some evidence that “bending granite” can be achieved –to employ a phrase used by Dorothy Guyot in a 1979 essay for the Journal of Police Science & Administration. But if it is unsuccessful, there will be some (more) evidence that the policing subculture is resistant, if not impervious, to change and external influences.

That will unfortunately subject Newark's police force to further public disdain.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Accounts and explorations of Newark police mismanagement and corruption stretch back to the 1940s. Here's a partial list for those who want to probe further: Third Ward Newark (Lucas, 1946); Justice Without Trial: Law Enforcement in a Democratic Society (Skolnick, 1968); Howard Street (Head, 1968); Report for Action (Governor's Select Commission on Civil Disorder, State of New Jersey, 1968); No Cause for Indictment (Porambo, 1971); To Drop a Dime (Hoffman & Pecznick, 1976); Newark (Cunningham, 1988).


Charlton, L. (December 10, 1969). Riots brought Newark's mayor from obscurity into spotlight. New York Times, p.50

Cunningham, J.T. (1988). Newark. Newark: New Jersey Historical Society.

Head, N. (1968). Howard Street. Los Angeles: Amok Books.

Hoffman, P. & Pecznick, I. (1976). To Drop a Dime. New York: Jove Publications.

Guyot, D. (1979). Bending granite: Attempts to change the rank structure in American police department. Journal of Police Science & Administration, 7: 253-287.

McGreevy, P. (December 20, 2006). Panel gives Bratton vote of confidence. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from on July 4, 2011.

Skolnick, J. (1966). Justice Without Trial: Law Enforcement in a Democratic Society. New York: John Wiley.

Lucas, C. (1946). Third Ward Newark. New York: Ziff Davis Publishing.

Peterson, M. (December 3, 1996). Newark ex-police director receives a 2 ½ year term. New York Times.

Porambo, R. (1971). No Cause for Indictment: An Autopsy of Newark. New York: Holt, Reinehart & Winston.

Shane, J. (2007). What Every Chief Executive Should Know: Using Data to Measure Police Performance. Flushing, NY: Looseleaf Law Publications.

— (2008). Developing a performance measuring system. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 77(9): 8-18.

—(2010). Performance management in police agencies: A conceptual framework. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 33(1): 6-29.

State of New Jersey. (1968). Report for Action. Trenton, NJ: Governor's Select Commission on Civil Disorder.

Whelen, J. S. (April 17, 2008). Newark ex-mayor Sharpe James found guilty of fraud. Star Ledger.

Whitaker, G., Mastrofski, S., Ostrom, E., Parks, R.B. and Percy, S.L. (1982), “Basic issues in police

performance”, National Institute of Justice, Washington, DC, July.

Jon Shane retired as a captain from the Newark Police Department in 2005. He is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice at John College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Prof. Shane welcomes comments from readers.

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