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Bloomfield officials will hold a virtual presentation of police data Oct. 13 at 7 p.m., thirteen days after the Bloomfield Information Project published a review of public records that showed Black and Latino drivers were more likely to be stopped in the township than white drivers.
The Sept. 30 article reviewed data from 2016 to 2020 that showed Black and Latino drivers were being stopped at twice the rate of white drivers by Bloomfield police. According to the data, 13 officers were three to five times more likely to stop a driver of color than they were a white driver. Six of those officers pulled over a Black person more than half of the time.
The reporting was prompted by public comments at a June 10 community meeting on race and policing held by township officials amid local and national protests against systemic racism. At the meeting, the heavy police presence on Bloomfield Ave was raised as an issue impacting people of color in and around the township. Officials present did not address it.
Since then, the township has held a series of conversations on race, and this event will be the first to return to the issue of policing. Between the June 10 meeting and a Change.org petition, there are seven issues community members have asked the township address. Here’s what we know about where things stand.
A number of questions have been raised by community members regarding transparency and the township police. Here’s the information people asked for at the June 10 meeting:
- Employment history of police officers
- Demographic makeup of the police department
- Incidents of police misconduct
- Use of force guidelines
- Incidents of use of force
- Bodycam policy
- Detailed police budget
At the meeting, Bloomfield Public Safety Director Samuel DeMaio committed to reviewing the police department’s 41 policy and procedure documents by the end of the summer to see which of them can be made public.
A total of twenty-one documents are now available on the police department website, including its use of force guidelines. None of the other information requested has been made publicly available as of publication.
Warning before shooting
In June, the 8 Can’t Wait police reform movement called for cities to adopt eight policies associated with decreases in police violence. At the time, Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia stated the township followed seven of the eight policies and that he would discuss adopting the final policy – warning before shooting – with the public safety director.
DeMaio addressed the adoption of these policies at the June 10 meeting. “The mayor and I have been having conversations over the past several days about implementing the 8 Can’t Wait into our policies in writing. And we’ve been working on that together for the past several days and we will get all of them done,” he said.
As of Oct. 12, the township has not announced the adoption of a warning before shooting rule.
Policing on Bloomfield Ave
The Bloomfield Information Project reached out to township officials for requests for comment before publishing our reporting showing the likelihood that Black and Latino drivers would be stopped by Bloomfield police. They did not respond.
Following our story’s publication, DeMaio dismissed its findings at an Oct. 5 town council meeting saying, “There’s no officer that we can say is a biased police officer in this police department or policing in a biased way.”
Our report did not claim that Bloomfield police officers were intentionally biased but showed the impact policing in Bloomfield was having on the historically marginalized people in and around Bloomfield community.
At the town council meeting, DeMaio cited a variety of data suggesting our report’s benchmark for measuring racial equity – the township’s demographics – was not sufficient as it did not consider other variables the department uses including:
- Demographics of the area patrolled
- Officer’s duty or function
- Reviews of other officer activities
- Citizen complaints
- Overall work performance
Releasing the department’s own racial equity benchmarks and associated officer data would allow policymakers and community members to further review this issue.
Review and reallocation of the police budget
In 2020, Bloomfield raised the police budget to $17.2 million – nearly 20 percent of the township’s annual spending. Just $2.3 million went to health and human services. Parks and recreation received another $578,000.
Community members have called for a review and a reallocation of the police budget towards programs that increase public safety by improving community well-being. Those could include expanding access to healthcare, creating more green spaces, developing community organizations, and improving local job markets.
The township will begin preparing their budget for 2021-2022 early next year. As of Oct. 12, they have not taken any public action suggesting a review of the police budget and consideration of alternative public safety programs.
Ending qualified immunity
At the June 10 meeting, a community member asked about ending qualified immunity for Bloomfield police officers. Under the rule, police officers are protected from termination unless they violate a specific policy or law.
In response, both DeMaio and Venezia discussed opting the police department out of the state’s Civil Service Act, the law currently guiding how they can hire and fire officers.
“You know, because you wear a badge – you shouldn’t have any immunity. You shouldn’t have any special privilege. You should follow the law that you are paid to enforce,” DeMaio said.
As of publication, there have been no public statements or actions taken by township officials regarding this issue.
Ending enforcement of non-serious and non-dangerous behavior
The petition called for ending enforcement of non-serious and non-dangerous behavior until less punitive programs could be developed.
In an interview in July, DeMaio said officers did have discretion when it comes to enforcing minor offenses. “It would really free up a lot of their time. And it would make for better relations with the community.”
At a Sept. 21 town council meeting, DeMaio said the department had decreased proactive activity due to COVID-19 and nationwide calls to review policing practices. “We’re seeing a 47 percent decrease in moving and parking summonses from last year at the same time. Our arrest activity is at a 38 percent decrease from last year.”
There have been no indications that the reduction in proactive enforcement is intended to be long-term. In fact, comments made by Venezia in 2016 suggest that proactive enforcement of low-level offenses was a priority for his administration. “I’m a big ‘broken windows theory’ guy,” he told NJ.com.
Christopher Columbus statue
The final issue that was raised at the June 10 meeting was the Christopher Columbus statue located on the town green.
Monuments to Columbus became popular among Italian immigrant communities in the last 1800s and early 1900s at a time when they were the victims of discrimination and marginalization across the country.
In Essex County, redlining maps from a federal New Deal-era agency, highlighted the “undesirable” residents of certain areas, including Italian Americans.
But Columbus was a kidnapper, slaver, and mass murderer whose actions precipitated centuries of violence against indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere. Since June, monuments to Columbus have been taken down in West Orange, Newark, and Camden.
At the meeting, Venezia said he has no problem looking into it. “I have no loyalty to the Christopher Columbus statue,” he said.
Again, as of publication, there have been no indications that township officials have considered the removal of the statue.
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