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New Jersey Police Department To Face Federal Probe Over “Problematic” Use Of Force & Illegal Stops

The U.S. Department of Justice has initiated a civil rights investigation into the Trenton, New Jersey Police Department, expressing concerns about excessive use of force and unwarranted stops and searches of pedestrians and motorists. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke announced the probe, stating that investigators would examine problematic uses of force, particularly against individuals stopped for minor traffic infractions, as well as those who were already compliant or restrained.

Allegations that officers used force to punish observers or questioners and escalated tensions with residents, especially those in mental health crises, are also part of the investigation. While no specific reports of racial profiling have been made, the city's demographic makeup with 49% Black and 37% Hispanic or Latino residents has prompted this inquiry.

The investigation will assess whether the department exhibits a systemic "pattern or practice" of misconduct, with results expected in up to a year. This probe draws parallels to a similar investigation in Newark a decade ago, which led to a consent decree requiring changes. The investigation will also encompass use-of-force records, court documents, media reports, body camera footage, training materials, and the department's policies regarding citizen complaints and officer discipline. The investigators will engage with police staff, observe officers on duty, and meet with the public.

Trenton's police force has faced a history of brutality, resulting in lawsuits and indictments. Notable incidents include an officer pepper-spraying an elderly man who later died, officers charged for beating a man during a routine traffic stop, and an officer's shooting of an unarmed motorist that sparked demands for transparency. Officers also faced criticism for restraining a man in a mental crisis, leading to his death.

As we witness this inquiry unfold, it serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for systemic change and accountability within law enforcement agencies.

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