I-Team: Police Use of Force in Embattled NJ Community Skyrockets, According to Report

A new report claims that the number of instances of police use of force in an embattled New Jersey community have increased dramatically in the past two years, and that minorities are the primary subjects of that force.

The township of Bloomfield, which has been under fire recently for allegations of racial profiling, "is off the charts as far as increases are concerned," according to Richard Rivera, a former Hudson County police officer and board member of the Latiano Leadership Alliance of New Jersey, which issued the report.  

The LLANJ analyzed data from several departments throughout New Jersey and found that in 2015, use of force incidents reported by police officers was up in Bloomfield 87 percent over 2014, from 32 incidents to 60. In the first four months of 2016, there were 23 instances of police use of force, representing a jump of 187 percent over the same time period in 2015. 

Bloomfield Police Director Samuel DeMaio acknowledged that the raw numbers are up, but denied there is a problem.

"The number is only up because the number of arrests have nearly doubled," said DeMaio, who added that crime last year was down 28 percent over the previous year.

He also denied that minorities are racially targeted in Bloomfield.

"I don’t think this department has a racial issue at all," he said. "There is no particular race that’s targeted for arrests, motor vehicle stops, or anything."

Rivera disagreed. He said that data showed that minorities, especially blacks, are overwhelmingly the subject of force. Eighteen of the 23 people who were subjected to police use of force in the first four months of 2016 were black. 

"Essentially, their argument is that blacks are engaged in more criminal activity, that blacks violate traffic laws at a higher rate and that blacks resist police officers. Where is that found within any scholarly work?" said Rivera.

DeMaio said that before he took over the Bloomfield Police Department in 2014, there was no tracking of use of force incidents. He noted the cases of former officers Orlando Trinidad and Sean Courter, who are now in prison for lying about a traffic stop in 2012. Use of force data reviewed by the Alliance showed that both officers were involved in multiple use of force incidents prior to the one in 2012.

"If they were here today with the system we have in place, that incident would never have taken place," said DeMario, referring to their falsely accusing a driver of resisting arrest and assault.

Bloomfield has instituted an early warning system to flag officers with a high number of use of force incidents. A command team also reviews every video involving use of force from police dashcams and new bodycams, and reviews all reports. DeMaio said that 93 percent of the officers’ use of force involves compliance holds, and not takedowns or tackles.

Udi Ofer, executive director of the New Jersey ACLU, is concerned that there is no centralized database of police use of force in the state.

"Every time a police officer engages in use of force they have to fill out a form that is eventually transmitted to the state Attorney General’s office, but then it appears that little, if anything, happens with it, and it’s unclear to us whether anyone is engaged in a sophisticated analysis of any patterns or trends," he said.

The NJ ACLU also believes that more municipalities should have civilian complaint review boards. Newark is the only municipality that currently has an independent review of the police department.

DeMaio said: "I would personally have no objection to it."

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