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Justice Department investigates Newark Police

By Leigh Remizowski, CNN
  • Newark Police Department faces allegations of discriminatory policing by officers
  • Officials looking for pattern of illegal stops and frisks and use of excessive force
  • ACLU of New Jersey allegedly found more than 400 civil rights violations
  • Mayor says city reached out to federal government for help; inquiry is not a criminal one

(CNN) -- The Newark Police Department is being investigated by the federal government in the wake of allegations of discriminatory policing by department officers, according to Paul Fishman, the U.S. Attorney for the district of New Jersey.

The inquiry will evaluate whether the Police Department's practices are in violation of federal law, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Officials have begun conducting interviews and reviewing records to determine whether officers have a pattern of illegal stops and frisks and use of excessive force against civilians.

"Our goal is not to blame, but to fix any problems we might find," Fishman said at a news conference Monday.

The investigation is being led by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey as well as the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, which has conducted similar reviews of law enforcement agencies in New York, Ohio, Washington, Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Louisiana and California.

Officials will also focus on allegations that Newark police officers retaliate against people who attempt to watch or record police activity, according to a Justice Department statement.

Although officials would not pinpoint where allegations against the Newark Police Department originated, Fishman said they took into consideration a petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2010.

The ACLU of New Jersey allegedly found more than 400 civil rights violations within Newark public records dated January 1, 2008, through July 1, 2010. These violations, detailed in a petition it sent to the Justice Department in September, include false arrests and violent behavior by officers that resulted in injury and death.

"The announcement that the DOJ will bring its resources and expertise to our city and hold the NPD accountable marks a critical moment in our city's history," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs in a statement. "The cries of Newarkers have finally been heard."

Newark Mayor Cory Booker said that Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy reached out directly to Justice Department officials for help after these allegations arose last year.

"We have to engender greater respect from the citizenry and confidence that the Police Department is out there working with them," Booker said.

The investigation is not a criminal investigation and is meant to pinpoint practices that violate the Constitution and provide a way to fix them, said Tom Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

"We are here to listen and learn -- to follow the facts where they take us," Perez said.

The public can submit complaints about the Newark Police Department through a hot line and online. The number is 855-281-3339, and the website for a complaint form is