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Newark tests 'stop-and-frisk' transparency

Just days after a federal judge ruled that the New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of blacks and Latinos with its "stop-and-frisk" pr
New York City Police officers watch over a demonstration against the city's "stop and frisk" searches in lower Manhattan near Federal Court March 18, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty)
New York City Police officers watch over a demonstration against the city's "stop and frisk" searches in lower Manhattan near Federal Court March 18, 2013 in...

Just days after a federal judge ruled that the New York Police Department violated the constitutional rights of blacks and Latinos with its "stop-and-frisk" program, police in nearby Newark, N.J., made their own version of the controversial program a little more transparent.

Perhaps taking lessons from the NYPD’s public relations nightmare in the way the city begrudgingly handed over data related to whom it stopped and why, the Newark Police Department’s iteration of stop-and-frisk includes the monthly release of statistics.

The Newark Police Department on Thursday published the results from the program’s first month in the city, the largest and one of the poorest in New Jersey. The statistics, published on the department's website, includes the age, race and gender of those stopped. Also included is the total number of stops that resulted in an arrest.

In July, police stopped 2,109 people, the vast majority of them African-Americans. According to police records, 1,527 of those stopped were black. Another 376 were white. Data for Hispanics was not available.

The transparency of the Newark program was heralded by advocate groups that have been fierce critics of the NYPD and New York City’s mayor and police chief over their defense of stop and frisk there.

The New York Civil Liberties Union and The Center For Constitutional Rights sued New York City over its stop-and-frisk policy, which New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vigorously defended as a lynchpin to the city’s declining murder rate. Anti-stop-and-frisk groups had fought long and hard to get the NYPD to release data from its stops and frisks, in which officers targeted random minorities mostly in poor neighborhoods.

“The ACLU-NJ commends the Newark Police Department for issuing, for the first time in its history, public data on the use of stop-and-frisk in Newark," Udi Ofer, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told "Stop-and-frisk is an intrusive practice that should be used carefully and only when there is reasonable suspicion of a crime. This data offers an important look at who is being stopped-and-frisked in our community and why."

On Monday, Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the NYPD violated the constitutional rights of those it targeted, overwhelmingly blacks and Latinos, and found that the department “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling.” Scheindlin called for a number of reforms, including cameras to be worn on some officers bodies and the appointment of a federal monitor to oversee those reforms. The program, however, was not halted, and Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to appeal the ruling.

In her blistering, 195-page decision, Scheindlin said “the city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner.”

Between 2004 and 2012 some 4.4 million people had been stopped, and 2.3 million frisked. A weapon was found in less than 1% of the stops and overall, 90% of those stopped and frisked were completely innocent. About 80% of the people stopped were young black and Hispanic men. According to the data released by Newark police, 568 of the 2,109 stops resulted in an arrest or summons.

The release of Newark’s stop and frisk data comes just as Mayor Cory Booker steps closer to becoming Sen. Cory Booker. On Tuesday, Booker handily won a special primary election to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Frank Lautenburg.

James Allen, a spokesman for Booker, told msnbc in a statement that major crimes including homicides, shootings and aggravated assaults have all seen reductions since the mayor took office. Allen said that as “a strong advocate for government transparency, the mayor supports policies to make data publicly available to citizens.”

While the transparency of the program has been lauded, some residents and city officials are dubious given the disparity in the number of African-Americans stopped.

According to the Census, Newark’s population is approximately 277,727. Blacks make up about 54% of the population, while Hispanics are about 33% and whites 26%. But blacks were disproportionately stopped last month, making up about 72% of the total stops.

“It’s a mirror for them, to maybe re-assess some of what they do in the field towards African-Americans," Rice said of the statistics.

The Newark Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on the department’s stop and frisk program and the release of Thursday's statistics.

Councilman Ras Baraka told msnbc that given Newark’s majority black population, the percentage of blacks stopped is not surprise. Baraka also said police leaders have described the new program to the city council as being markedly different than the much maligned policy adopted by the NYPD. He said from his understanding officers are not randomly stopping and questioning people, rather, they are just detailing the nature of every stop they routinely make and logging who it is they are stopping and why.

“The police department has gotten proactive on keeping a record of what’s going on. I don’t think they are going to implement true stop and frisk in Newark,” Baraka said. “I think the name of the policy or program is misleading. When people hear stop-and-frisk they think of New York City where the police are randomly stopping and frisking people without probably cause, and that is a violation of people’s constitutional rights, especially if you are targeting high minority areas.”

He added: “If it turns out to be the latter, what’s going on in New York City, I’d certainly have a problem with it.”

Beautiful SeeAsia, an activist with the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, said police transparency is a necessity in a city so ravaged by violence and lingering mistrust of the police department.

“I think it’s necessary because what it does is educate people on the regimen they use in order to justify why they would stop and frisk, and the demographic in terms of who has actually been involved with the police in the last 30 days,” SeeAsia said. “I think it’s fair for people to know and should be public knowledge for people in this city and across New Jersey and the country to know what the process is and the criteria they used.”

She too said that with a black majority in the city, that more blacks would likely be stopped more. She said the continued release of the stop and frisk data will likely serve as a double-edged sword though.

“The unfortunate part about it is going to give one group of people the notion that, see, I told you they are criminals. But it’s also going to stir up the other part of it, the empathy, like wow, I can’t believe it and it’s a shame that African Americans are largely stopped.”