Call for Highland Park Boro Council Response to Police Use-of-Force Data

Call for Highland Park Boro Council Response to Police Use-of-Force Data

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Bias-Free HP started this petition to Gayle Brill-Mittler and

December 3, 2018

Dear Mayor and Highland Park Borough Council Members,

On November 29, 2018, NJ.com published “The Force Report,” an investigative journalism project that digitized and reviewed 72,000 documents to create a comprehensive police use-of-force database that includes every NJ police department. The data for Highland Park is alarming. According to the report, the Highland Park Police Department uses force at a higher rate than 357 police departments in New Jersey. There are 468 local police departments in New Jersey. Based on population, a black person in Highland Park is 1033% more likely to have force used on them than a white person, and based on arrests, a black person in Highland Park is 51% more likely to have force used on them than a white person.This is unacceptable.

We acknowledge the borough has begun the process of analyzing policing data on traffic stops, but a pattern of racial disparities has now emerged and we can't afford to wait to enact changes to the way policing happens in Highland Park. Highland Park needs to act urgently in undergoing a comprehensive analysis of police data, beyond traffic stops, including but not limited to pedestrian stops, marijuana arrests, searches and arrests. This information can be used to inform police practices, training, and policy now and in the future. The disparities seen in the NJ.com use of force report will not end or disappear without considerable work and effort put into addressing the problem. As you may recall, in May of 2018, in under 24 hours, over 170 members of the Highland Park community signed a petition that detailed a list of specific demands related to racial bias and racial profiling in Highland Park policing. That petition was ignited due to a case of racial profiling of a black high school student entering the front door of his own home, as well as an analysis of policing data by ACLU People Power Middlesex County, which like the NJ.com report also highlighted alarming disparities in Highland Park policing. We are aware that a group of concerned residents have been meeting regularly with you since the summer regarding the petition demands, and are encouraged by the fact that a commission focused on this important work is on the table as noted in your Nov. 7th council meeting agenda. However, this additional report by NJ.com brings renewed urgency to those demands being addressed and this commission being formed immediately.

We are requesting that the Council present what progress has been made on the following demands at the December 18, 2018 Council meeting:

  • Hire an independent auditor with expertise in racial profiling and policing to perform a comprehensive audit of HPPD focused on identifying and assessing racial disparities and potential patterns of racial bias. The auditing firm should be selected through a transparent, community-responsive process.
  • Initiate in-depth and sustained training in implicit racial bias and de-escalation strategies for current and prospective HPPD officers.
  • Develop a plan for ongoing review and analysis of policing data that includes representation from the community and is focused on increased transparency and the identification of racial disparities and potential patterns of racial bias.
  • Establish a complaint process that is clearly communicated and easily accessible to the community, including an anonymous option.
  • Create an all-civilian oversight structure with an allocated budget.
  • Implement a commission empowered to make recommendations to the Borough Council for the development of policies and procedures related to racial bias and racial disparities in Highland Park policing.
  • Adopt and implement a bias-free policing policy.

Thank you for addressing our concerns. We look forward to hearing more at the council meeting.

Sincerely,

Members of Bias-Free HP, Members of ACLU People Power Middlesex County, New Jersey, and concerned residents of Highland Park, New Jersey.

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