By David Jones
NEWARK N.J. (Reuters) - Federal investigators found police repeatedly violated civil rights in Newark, New Jersey's largest city, and recommended an independent monitor to oversee changes, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday.
The city has agreed to accept the findings of the Justice Department probe, which has been under way since 2011 and suggested ways to stop the "pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing by the Newark Police Department," U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said in a statement.
Specifically, the report said, police violated rights through stop-and-arrest practices that disproportionately targeted blacks, stealing citizens' property and cracking down on people who lawfully objected to police behavior.
"Too often people believe that constitutional policing is inconsistent with effective policing," Jocelyn Samuels, the acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, said at a news conference. "But a growing body of research and our own experience with police departments across the country demonstrate that this is decidedly not the case."
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has said he would accept the rare but not unprecedented move of appointing a monitor, which had been opposed by his predecessor, Cory Booker, who is now a U.S. senator.
"We also understand that we cannot arrest our way out of the problems we have in Newark," Baraka said at the news conference.
Just eight miles from Manhattan, Newark - once a thriving manufacturing center for leather, celluloid and light bulbs - has worked to overcome its image of urban blight and high crime.
The federal investigation uncovered a practice of stopping pedestrians without sufficient justification in nearly 75 percent of cases.
It also found police disproportionately targeted blacks, who accounted for 85 percent of pedestrian stops and yet are roughly 54 percent of Newark's population.
Police also violated citizens' First Amendment rights by arresting people who lawfully objected to police actions or behaved in a way that officers perceived as disrespectful.
More than 20 percent of Newark police officers reported use of force that appeared unreasonable, the report said.
Finally, the report found theft of citizens' property by officers was rampant, particularly by officers from narcotics and gang units as well as in the prisoner-processing unit.
Among the changes the report calls for are equipping all marked patrol cars with video cameras and officers with body cameras and microphones to record all law-enforcement activity, except in the case of some undercover work.
(Reporting by David Jones; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Jonathan Allen and Eric Beech)