Newark Officers Fired ‘Zero Shots’ in 2020, Reform Overhaul Cited

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Newark, N.J. Photo by Matt V via Flickr

Surprising advocates and lawmakers, Newark, N.J., police announced through the release of their Comstat data that their officers did not fire a single shot during the 2020 calendar year, and the city didn’t pay a dime to settle any police brutality cases as the need was not there. 

This has never happened in the city’s modern history, reports. 

“This is significant,” says Aqeela Sherills, head of the Newark Community Street Team, a group of mostly former offenders who work to defuse violence in the city’s most violent wards. “It speaks to how reform has really taken hold in the city.”

Not only has there been success with de-escalation from the police officer perspective, but the community is safer as well, as police were able to safely recover nearly 500 illegal guns from Newark in 2020 — making a calmer and more peaceful environment for all. 

The de-escalation reform methods and programs helped the city of Newark, and now it’s being used as the inspiring blueprint for use-of-force reform in Pennsylvania cities, like Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.  

The New Jersey reforms are the result of a federal consent decree after the Department of Justice concluded a long investigation in 2014 that found the Newark Police department had “rot that had infested in the department for decades,” explains. 

Peter Harvey, the former state attorney general who is overseeing the implementation of the consent decree said at the time, “You had a law enforcement agency with no training about how to enforce the law.” 

Not only was there a lack of overall training, writes, but the investigation uncovered early on that the reflexive resort of Newark Police Officers was to resort to violence and play into racial bias. 

It also uncovered a corrupt internal affairs bureau, which sustained that there was only one police brutality complaint over a five year period — which would be extraordinary, if only it were true.

Once the new reforms and training kicked in, the Police Director began hiring more Black and Brown officers to work in communities they connected with, while also training officers on best-practices and required constant reporting on events and progress. 

Naturally, through the rigorous changes, writes that “the bad cops were suddenly outed.” 

Some of the key changes now implemented in the Newark Police Department that contributed to the reform success are: 

      • Prohibiting officers from firing weapons at a moving vehicle or in a high-speed chase except when absolutely necessary;
      • Providing new guidance about using non- or less-lethal force as a de-escalation tool;
      • Requiring officers to interject if they see another officer using excessive force against anyone; and, 
      • Require officers to request or provide medical assistance after inappropriate use of force.

Newark officers now routinely view videos presenting and role-play challenging scenarios, offer responses, then discuss it with supervisors.

“It’s not about resolving the situation as quickly as you can,” Brian O’Hara, the deputy chief overseeing training said.

“It’s about protecting the sanctity of every life.”

Not Stopping at Newark 

Following the news of the transformed police department, other places in the tristate area have adjusted their focus to learning more about their success in Newark. 

An editorial in The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that the city has had a violent 2020 beyond the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly 500 people killed and more than 2,200 shot in 2020 alone — 40 percent higher than 2019 statistics.

To that end, the Inquirer calls New Jersey’s policies “ambitious” but marks that major change must be put in place to help save people’s lives. 

New Jersey’s reforms are drawing support from law enforcement officials as well as police unions, and it deserves a serious look by other jurisdictions, such as Philadelphia,” the editorial board explains. 

Other cities are starting to pay attention too, as the news of Newark’s Police Department not firing a single shot in 2020 with crime decreasing was reported by Fox local news stations in both Cincinnati, Ohio, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

Overall, Larry Hamm, the godfather of police protests in Newark as head of the People’s Organization for Progress, noted that while zero shots fired in Newark and hundreds of illegal guns picked up from the street is absolutely something to celebrate — permanent change doesn’t happen overnight. 

“Police brutality is still a problem,” Hamm says. “But it’s fair to say the consent decree has had a real impact.”

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.

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