By Steve Neavling
The Justice Department launched an investigation Tuesday into the city of Trenton, N.J., and its police department following reports that officers violated the constitutional rights of residents.
The civil pattern or practice investigation will “seek to determine whether there are systemic violations of the Constitution and federal law” by the Trenton Police Department, the DOJ announced in a news release.
“The public must have trust and confidence that police officers will treat them fairly and with respect,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said. “The Justice Department is opening an investigation into the Trenton Police Department after an extensive review of publicly available information and other information provided to us suggesting that officers used force, stopped motorists and pedestrians and conducted searches of homes and cars in violation of the Constitution and federal law. Our experience has shown that policing practices that run afoul of the law and our Constitution can lead to distrust between police officers and the community. The Justice Department will conduct a full and fair investigation into these allegations, and if we substantiate those violations, the department will take appropriate action to remedy them.”
U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger said it’s vital that residents trust their police departments.
“Police officers have the difficult job of keeping us safe, and most officers do this work with honor and distinction,” Sellinger said. “But if police officers abuse the trust the community places in them and fail to respect the constitutional rights of those in the community, and if the community feels threatened by those who wear the badge, it undermines public safety and endangers the very citizens they swore to protect and serve. Unfortunately, we have reviewed numerous reports that Trenton police officers may have used force inappropriately and conducted stops, searches, and arrests with no good reason in violation of individuals’ constitutional rights. Today’s announcement reflects our office’s commitment to ensuring effective, constitutional policing in Trenton and throughout New Jersey. Trenton residents should be assured that we will conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of the Trenton Police Department, and that we will address any unlawful conduct we find.”
Trenton, which has a population of 90,000 residents, has struggled for decades with a high crime rate and poverty.