The U.S. Department of Justice is actively investigating the American Civil Liberties Union's call for federal oversight of the Newark Police Department, talking with law enforcement and civic leaders and seeking details of police abuse allegations, reports the Newark Star-Ledger. A city councilman, three civil rights leaders, the presidents of Newark's police unions, and a defense attorney who often represents officers accused of misconduct all said they have been approached by federal officials.
The probe has focused largely on excessive force complaints and the department's internal affairs bureau. Investigators have asked to speak with victims of alleged abuse and requested union documents. Last month, investigators told Newark's Fraternal Order of Police they might begin interviewing officers, said Derrick Hatcher, the union president. In September, the ACLU filed a 96-page petition citing dozens of lawsuits and years of internal affairs statistics, claiming the department cannot police itself. Advocates' main concern is with Newark's internal affairs bureau: only one of 261 of the most serious complaints was sustained over a two-and-a-half year period, according to the petition. “The important thing is, they're there on the ground,” said Sam Walker, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha who aided the ACLU on its petition.