- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 25, 2017

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - Newark’s troubled police department has made strides toward meeting the goals of a consent decree but has significant work yet to do in areas including police training, a federal monitor wrote in his first published report since the decree took effect.

The U.S. Justice Department placed Newark’s police department under five years of oversight last year after a three-year federal investigation revealed multiple problems, including officers routinely using excessive force and making unconstitutional street stops.

Former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey was appointed to monitor the department.

His first report, filed Monday, comes at a time of uncertainty for the dozen or so urban police departments under federal oversight. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a review of all Justice Department consent decrees and said the federal government may step back from enforcing those agreements.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has said the city will continue with reforms, even if the decree is removed.

Harvey’s report praises the department’s efforts in many areas, particularly in developing a community-oriented policing strategy to develop better relations with residents. Previously, Harvey wrote, the department didn’t have a formal community policing program or policy.

Newark’s proposed plan, “if implemented effectively, has the potential to go above and beyond the requirements of the Consent Decree,” Harvey wrote.

He added progress has been slow in developing new training programs for officers, primarily because of “a lack of existing training resources.”

Newark police soon will start using body-worn cameras as part of a pilot program before it implements them on a citywide basis as required by the decree. Panasonic, which has its North American headquarters in Newark, has been selected to provide the cameras.

The report issues dire warnings for the police department’s computer systems and its property and evidence collection and storage. The Justice Department investigation found evidence of rampant property theft and little oversight.

The report describes storage areas with broken windows and leaking roofs, and lacking electricity, lights or air conditioning. Evidence from homicide investigations is “stored in large, open areas in unsecured cardboard boxes stacked upon one another,” Harvey wrote.

The report recommends building a new facility it estimates would cost $8 million, or repurposing an existing one.

More pressing is the state of the department’s computer systems, according to the report.

“It is the Monitoring Team’s view that (the Newark Police Department) will not be in a position to comply with Consent Decree requirements unless the City commits substantial funding and resources to improving the NPD’s data systems,” it says.

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