The ACLU says the department has a pattern of false arrests and excessive force against citizens and lacks oversight and internal controls.
The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says police misconduct is rampant in the state's largest city and it is asking for a federal investigation into reports of rights violations and false arrests.
In a 96-page petition covering the past two and a half years, the ACLU-NJ said it has 407 allegations of severe misconduct by the Newark Police Department, including incidence of false arrests, inconsistent discipline, discrimination against employees, delinquent internal affairs practices and violence against citizens.
The group says the city has paid out over $4 million in a 2 1/2 year period to settle lawsuits brought against the police department by citizens or department employees.
"The problem in Newark is much bigger than the actions of any one police officer, or even any one administration, and it cannot be contained internally," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Deborah Jacobs. "Our petition demonstrates an established culture of lawlessness that can only be reformed through external intervention," she said.
The city and the police department dismissed the ACLU case as exaggerated. "The city feels that the ACLU petition is frivolous and submitted in bad faith," Newark lawyer Julian Neals said in a statement.
The ACLU report contains what it calls "heartbreaking stories of violence, discrimination and retaliation."
In one case settled in March 2010, the ACLU says, "an officer fractured several locations of a man's jaw and face as other officers passively looked on after he asked how to file a complaint with internal affairs."
In addition to the misconduct, officers named in complaints routinely went unpunished, such as one officer who had 62 career complaints but remained on patrol, the ACLU said.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has made cleaning up crime and corruption in Newark a top priority of his government, told the Star-Ledger that the ACLU report is "casting unnecessary aspersions on the police department through the distortion of facts."