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Justice Department Reaches Agreement With Newark, N.J., On Police Overhaul

People walk by a police car in downtown Newark, N.J., in May 2014.

The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that it has reached an agreement with Newark, N.J., on changes to the city's police department.

NPR's Carrie Johnson tells our Newscast unit that this comes after "civil rights investigators had uncovered a pattern of unconstitutional stops and property thefts." She adds:

"The Justice Department team studied thousands of unjustified stops and searches by the Newark police that had a disparate impact on minorities.

"Federal civil rights investigators also found law enforcement had used excessive force and stolen people's property.

"The new agreement between the Obama administration and authorities in Newark will impose more police training, change the way people are searched, and deploy body-worn cameras."

And as Carrie reports, the proposed consent decree requires the approval of a federal judge.

"We found practices that not only broke the law but also eroded trust," Vanita Gupta, head of the civil rights division, said at a press conference in Newark. "We found policies that not only harmed residents but also lacked accountability. And we found systems that not only failed the community but also failed officers themselves."

Paul Fishman, U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, said in a statement, "The department is challenged in fundamental ways and has engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing in a broad range of areas." He added, "It is also clear that the Police Department's relationship with the people of the city has suffered dramatically from the combination of those practices."

Fishman called this agreement "a major step towards breaking that cycle."

NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reported last July that the Justice Department's investigation had found "that about 75 percent of stops made by Newark police were illegal, many targeting black residents for loitering or wandering."

Samuel Walker, an expert on police accountability, told Hansi at the time that "lasting change will come after the consent decree and a federally appointed monitor are in place to overhaul how Newark does policing."

Walker added that there's a "huge learning curve" when it comes to scrutinizing officer conduct. "It may take a while," he said.

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