The Bloomfield Information Project is hosting local and national experts for a virtual panel discussion about equity in policing and public safety in Bloomfield and Essex County on May 25 at 7 p.m. on Zoom. Registration is through Eventbrite.

The event comes one year after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd drew thousands of people to marches, meetings, and events across Essex County to decry systemic racism. Event panelists include:

  • Rick Robinson, Chairman of the Newark Civilian Complaint Review Board
  • Brooke Lewis, Associate Counsel at New Jersey Institute for Social Justice
  • Sarah Fajardo, Policy Director at American Civil Liberties Union of N.J.
  • Chris Burbank, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships with the Center for Policing Equity and former chief of police in Salt Lake City

BIP’s focus on policing follows calls made by Bloomfield residents in June 2020 for the township to address at least seven issues tied to systemic racism, including over-policing of Black and Latino residents of Bloomfield and nearby communities by Bloomfield police.

Later that year, BIP reported that Bloomfield police stopped Black and Latino drivers at twice the rate of white drivers from 2016 to 2020. We found more than a dozen officers stopped people of color at three to five times the rate of white drivers in the majority-white township. A contentious Seton Hall University Law School report called attention to similar disparities in 2016.

Following our story, the township’s police director began monthly reports at town council meetings. And officials have expanded the use of body cameras, launched new community engagement initiatives, and committed to an independent review of the department.

But they have not addressed community calls for transparency on police misconduct, ending arrests for low-level offenses, and reallocating parts of the police budget – nearly 20% of the township’s spending – towards more equitable public safety programs. (BIP has reached out to the offices of Bloomfield’s mayor and police director 11 times in the last year to discuss policing and has received no response.)

In neighboring Newark, the U.S. Department of Justice started overseeing reforms to policing in 2016 after a federal investigation found police were disproportionately stopping and arresting Black residents, failing to provide sufficient legal basis for stops, and retaliating against individuals who questioned police actions, among other inappropriate behavior.

Much has changed in policing and public safety in Newark since then. A civilian police oversight board now exists to try and hold police accountable. Training in de-escalation, body cameras, and stronger disciplinary standards has decreased police use of force. Newark even launched a Community Street Team as an alternative approach to violence reduction. But, like Bloomfield and much of New Jersey, these reforms have not moved the needle on racial justice in policing and public safety.

According to the state’s new police use-of-force dashboard, Black people in Bloomfield, Newark, Essex County, and all of New Jersey continue to more likely to be subjects of police use of force. 

In Bloomfield, Black residents make up approximately 20 percent of the township’s population but made up nearly two-thirds of police use-of-force incidents from October 24, 2020, to March 25, 2021, according to the dashboard.

On November 9, 2020, Bloomfield police officers shot and wounded a Black man, Jeff Sutton of East Orange, after he attempted to flee from them by car. 

Shooting at moving vehicles is something that is restricted by the Bloomfield police department’s own use of force guidelines unless there is an “imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm” and “no other means are available…to avert or eliminate the danger.” 

Dash-cam footage from a vehicle in the area, by-stander video, and police body camera footage obtained by a community member don’t show anyone standing in front of Sutton’s car when he accelerates away from police.

For Newark, the state dashboard shows police use of force involved Black people 78 percent of the time even though they make up approximately half of the city’s population.

The Newark police department did go the entirety of 2020 without a police shooting of a civilian but it started 2021 with the killing of an unarmed Black man, Carl Dorsey III, by a plainclothes police officer not yet required to wear a body camera.

And Newark’s civilian police oversight board – called the Civilian Complaint Review Board – recently had its powers curtailed by the state supreme court after a lawsuit brought by the city’s police union.

Now reformers are advocating for statewide legislation to empower civilian police oversight boards with investigative authority alongside other changes.

So what opportunities do Bloomfield and Essex County have to advance racial equity in policing and public safety? Join us on May 25 at 7 p.m. to find out.

You’ll hear from local and national experts working to make policing and public safety more effective and equitable. Below is what some of them have to say about the moment and our upcoming conversation:

“This moment calls for measures that will create a culture of accountable policing, which is why the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice support pending legislation that would ban chokeholds, strengthen civilian oversight, and increase transparency around police disciplinary records. But, even as we pursue police accountability, we must also look for ways to achieve public safety outside of traditional policing, focusing on what communities need to be and feel safe. This can mean investing in non-police behavioral health first responders and other community-based resources that help communities stay safe without law enforcement intervention.” 

– Brooke Lewis, Associate Counsel at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice

“We truly can make a difference in society when law enforcement officers are held accountable for their unwarranted and unjust actions. The Newark Civilian Complaint Review Board has made tremendous progress thus far in building our infrastructure. By being involved in discussions relevant to policy recommendations and being equipped with the proper tools to thoroughly investigate police actions, the Newark Civilian Complaint Review Board could provide the transparency for which our community and the nation has been desperately calling. Our Board members are committed to preventing future instances of what unconscionably and unnecessarily occurred to George Floyd, Eric Gardner, Michael Brown, and many more.”

– Rick Robinson, Chairman of the Newark Civilian Complaint Review Board

“The ACLU-NJ has worked throughout seven decades to counter police misconduct and advance police reform, all with the goals of ending racial profiling and building police accountability, transparency, and reform. The Garden State has the opportunity to realize long calls from New Jerseyans for change and move toward racial justice. Establishing strong civilian oversight, building transparency, ending qualified immunity, and restricting use of force are all important first steps toward change, and all are within reach.”

– Sarah Fajardo, Policy Director at ACLU-NJ