Last fall, students in Rutgers Law School’s Community and Transactional Lawyering Clinic in Newark started researching police department Civilian Complaint Review Boards (CCRB’s) all over the United States.
Their mission was to determine best practices, policies, procedures , codes of conduct, and the efficacy of CCRB’s across the nation in order to assist the newly-formed Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) of the City of Newark – the first one in the city’s history. The clinic students divided the categories and worked as teams, with certain members serving as “team leaders.”
“The Civilian Complaint Review Board is a huge milestone for the Newark community, and it’s very important that the board gets off to a strong start, and fosters good will and trust in the community,” said Christina Stripp, a team leader and May 2017 law school graduate. “We felt honored to be asked to participate in its formation and guidance.”
Under the guidance of Professor Charles Auffant, who is also a member of the CCRB, students in his clinic researched and reviewed documents, then drafted reports and presentations detailing best practices and drafting a code of conduct to present to Newark’s Board.
Mark Makar, another team leader, said clinic students analyzed over 100 civilian complaint review boards in order to compile a list of best practices for complaint form, by-laws, standards of conduct, handling of matters relating to confidentiality, complaint process, process for appointing members, and unique practices.
The clinic also created a code of conduct for the new Board. “The goal of the code of conduct that the clinic created was to establish a set of guidelines that govern the conduct of the members of the Board, to ensure trustworthiness, confidentiality, integrity, and impartiality of all Board members and in all matters before the Newark Board,” Makar said.
Once the clinic students finished their research and drafting, they brought the proposals with accompanying Power Point presentations to the CCRB this spring. Vanessa Martinez, another May 2017 graduate and Newark native, said the experience was invaluable, “Presenting our research and findings to the board members was both rewarding and insightful. It was rewarding because the members were really engaged. It was great to hear how much they appreciated the research we have done and how helpful it was for them as they move forward with the implementation of the Newark CCRB.”
All that hard work appeared to pay off. Auffant said the Newark CCRB adopted the proposed code of conduct, which he called one of the “most rigorous” in the United States.
“We believe it’s important for (the civilian complaint review) Board members to obtain the trust oboth the public and police department ,” he said.
Students also presented a report on best practices, which members of the review board are still discussing.
“The members of the review board asked very insightful and thoughtful questions,” said Stripp, who heads to a judicial clerkship after graduation. “You could tell they were giving it their full attention and took it very seriously.”
Richard H. Robinson, the chairman of the CCRB, praised the law students and their work, “On behalf of the Newark, NJ Civilian Complaint Review Board, let me first extend the board’s thanks to Rutgers Law School of Newark, Professor Charles I. Auffant, Esq., and mostly, your superior law students for providing the CCRB with comprehensive analysis and relevant information, on best practices. . ..”
Makar, who also heads to a judicial clerkship said, “I gained valuable insight from the research I conducted for the Newark CCRB regarding the growing problem of police misconduct across the country, and the benefit of having a civilian complaint review board to hold police officers more accountable for their actions than their respective police departments’ internal affairs divisions currently do.”
The board was created by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka in 2015 and the 11-members were sworn in during March 2016. The board was created after the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report in 2014 that was critical of the way police department complaints were handled. Since its inception, the CCRB has faced opposition from the city’s police union.
“We believe that a goal of the CCRB is to help restore the trust of Newark citizens in its police force by providing them with an unbiased, independent review of police conduct,” Auffant said.