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tv   Frontline  PBS  June 28, 2016 10:00pm-11:01pm PDT

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>> i didn't do nothing! come on, man! i didn't do nothing! >> narrator: they police one of the most violent cities in america, and they're under fire for how they've been doing it. >> the newark police department has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional stops... >> you gotta look at it our way. suppose he has a weapon on him. how would you confront the situation? >> can this be done in a way that still respects people's rights? >> narrator: writer and historian jelani cobb is on the street with the newark police. >> we're not out here saying, "we're gonna violate this person's rights." >> so is that a good stop, not a good stop? >> by perception, by perception only, that would look like it was a bad stop. by perception. >> narrator: and inside the politics of a city trying to change.
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>> you have to be a part of the community. you have to be a stakeholder in the community. >> this city is moving forward with a whole different police culture, and you are the beginning of that. >> narrator: tonight on frontline, "policing the police." >> frontlinis made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major support for frontliis provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more information is available at additional support is provided by the park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. the john and helen glessner family trust, supporting trustworthy journalism that informs and inspires. the ford foundation, working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide. at
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the wyncote foundation. and by the frontline journalism fund, with major support from jon and jo ann hagler, and additional support from the douglas drane family fund. >> ♪ o say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave ♪ ♪ o'er the land of the free... ♪ >> jelani cobb: in newark, new jersey, every city council hearing starts with whitney houston's version of the national anthem. she's a hometown hero. >> good evening, ladies and gentlemen. welcome to the newark
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municipal council's public meeting. >> cobb: but tonight is not just an ordinary meeting. people have packed city hall to speak up about the need for more police accountability. it's a conversation happening in cities all across the country. >> hello. my name is laquan thomas. i done been robbed by the cops. i done been assaulted by the cops. like, that's crazy. like, y'all supposed to be serving and protecting the community, but they serve and disrespect the community. >> i've been a victim of them more than once. i've been a victim of retaliation after reporting police abuses. >> i don't know a day that i walked outside and did not see police treat people injustice. are the criminals being dealt with? maybe, but the ones doing the nine to fives, paying their taxes, why are we subject to the same punishment as the rest of them? >> cobb: i've been going to meetings like this for years, writing about race and policing for the new yorker magazine. there seemed to have been, you know, really entrenched distrust for the police before. i was in ferguson, missouri,
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after a white policeman killed michael brown, a young black man. after the death of freddie gray in baltimore, i took this cell phone video of cops trying to put down the protests. i cover these stories because i see the tension between african americans and the police as a gauge of race relations in this country. and it's led me to wonder, what would it take for policing to ever be different? in the summer of 2014, i started looking at newark, one of the more recent cities to be accused of abusive and discriminatory policing. >> three years ago, we announced that we were launching an investigation into whether the newark police department had engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing.
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>> cobb: the justice department found rampant misconduct. >> newark police department has engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional stops, searches, and arrests on the city of newark's black residents. >> cobb: the doj demanded reform, but i wanted to know how reform could happen in newark, a poor city where last year there were more than 300 shootings and 105 murders... >> ...more than twice the number of carjackings... >> cobb: ... a rate nine times higher than new york city's. >> crime is on the rise in this city. >> cobb: gangs and drugs drive the violence. >> three teens were shot... >> cobb: and the department is underfunded, overstretched, and under fire for the way they do things. >> details this morning on a double shooting in new jersey, a woman killed and a man wounded. >> cobb: at the street level, the effort to halt the bloodshed falls on the newark pd gang unit. >> ...newark's 104th murder by late december. >> cobb: after writing about the police for years from the outside, i wanted to see things from the perspective of the cops themselves. >> come on, let's have roll
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call. >> roll call. >> cobb: it took months before they agreed to give us access. >> we had a gun robbery at 12:30 hours, 49 fairview avenue. >> cobb: sergeant joe conzentino is in charge. >> the victim, mr. stokes, previously classified g-shine, blood gang member. we don't know if this ties into the active dispute. reach out for our informants in the area, see if there's a tie-in to this. fairview homes, we will ride by and monitor that location during our tour of duty. >> carlos, your radio. >> thanks. >> cobb: like the rest of the police department, the gang unit is predominately black and latino, and so are most of the victims and perpetrators. >> come on, slim! >> (on radio): let us know when you're ready. >> we're good. >> all right, son. >> cobb: on one night, i rode with ricardo reillo, a former truck driver, and wilberto ruiz, an air force vet. both are from newark.
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>> where's blue pants going? >> that's a chick. >> cobb: the officers say they're out here hunting for guns, drugs, and intelligence about gang rivalries. (siren wailing) >> cobb: as they roll up on one of the worst streets in newark, a guy starts running. it's just the start of a busy night. >> bunch of heroin bricks, bunch of marijuana. >> cobb: one of many we spent with the unit. >> see your hands, see your
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hands. >> cobb: i'm struck by what passes for normal out here. >> there's the weed man. this is the weed man's car. >> cobb: they call what they're doing "field inquiries," basically stopping and frisking. how does the decision get made to say, "okay, we need to stop that person," or, "we need to do a field inquiry with that person"? >> you as an officer, you eventually build certain skills. you start learning how to read people, their body language. if one person doesn't want to take his hands out of his pockets, starts pulling away from you, starts walking away from you once he notices our police presence, obviously if he starts running, you know, there's a reason behind it, usually. >> you know more or less. when you pass them and they give you that look, you know. >> cobb: cops are supposed
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to have what's called reasonable suspicion to stop someone, not just a hunch. but that leaves room for discretion. >> we just want to make sure you're all right. >> they respect us, we respect them, we treat them fair. we have a rapport with them. they know what we're out here for, and they don't give us... most of the time they don't give us no problems. >> relax, my man. how old are you? >> all right, so what you... >> keep walking, keep walking. >> that's what we have to deal with in the city of newark-- 13-year-olds talking back to the police. >> cobb: do you think he was justified to be worried about his brother? >> oh, absolutely. but he sees who we are. we're police. he shouldn't be afraid of police. the young kids usually have all of the weapons, because the adults already know that it's a juvenile, so they're really not
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gonna get any hard time. >> cobb: for these officers, it seems like almost everything and everyone looks suspicious. >> you ain't got no id on you? >> cobb: the reasonable suspicion in this stop? they say the guy clutched his waistband as he was riding his bike. >> enjoy your movie, sir. >> cobb: i can't help but think of what the justice department found here-- that the newark pd was stopping people without legal justification 75% of the time. >> (on radio): 20-31, 20-31. >> cobb: i'm starting to question what the gang unit's doing. then, it happens. two guys start running as the caravan pulls up.
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>> look, i don't got no gun. >> turn around. >> yeah, that's affirm, we got him. where's it at? >> i don't got no gun! >> in that other yard. >> no, check that yard. >> put your hand behind your back, man. he's bleeding, you want to be careful. >> i don't give a (bleep). you almost got shot, you stupid (bleep). >> come on, man, get up. >> you gotta go around to that alley. >> you almost got shot.
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>> sit down. >> here's the weapon. >> cobb: almost every night we're out with the gang unit, they get a gun off the streets. there's a moment of pride... >> but, you know, the most important thing is, there's another weapon out the street. everybody's safe, everybody's accounted for. >> cobb: ...and then they get back to business. another call-- two kids running. (siren wailing) >> come on. >> why you running? >> scared of what?
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>> cobb: it's clear to me that there's no trust. that's what happens when everyone assumes the worst of everyone else. they find a small bag of cocaine on one guy, but nothing on the other one. at the end of the night, i talked with officers ruiz and reillo about what i'd been seeing. i'm just gonna ask you straight out-- is it possible to make the communities that we're talking about safe while respecting people's constitutional rights? >> absolutely. absolutely. without a doubt. we go out there every night. >> but the doj doesn't feel like that's what's happened here. >> that's an opinion. i mean, we out... we go out there. it's not any disrespect to
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anybody out there. it's not about race, you know, or violating their rights. it has nothing to do with that. we have a job to do. we live in this city. we care about this city. this is what we do. >> cobb: i have to tell you something though, right? so i grew up in queens, right? and my first experience with the police is that i was thrown up against a mailbox just like this one. i was coming home from a baseball game. i had my uniform on, i was carrying a bat and a glove. and the guy said it was a crime that was committed and so on, and i was kind of like, "i'm coming from a game." the next experience i had was a few years later, i was walking with a group of friends of mine and a cop pulled a gun on us and told us to get on the sidewalk. >> he pulled out his weapon to make you comply with whatever he needed you to do at the time for his safety and other officers' safety, even for your own safety. >> you could point your weapon at somebody and give them commands to comply. once you feel like the threat's neutralized, like, you know, they're complying with you, then you put your weapon away, and, you know... >> have a normal interaction. >> yeah, have a normal
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interaction. >> cobb: but can you really have a normal interaction if someone's pointing a gun at you? i don't... i don't... >> you gotta look at it our way. i mean, say there was five, six males, and one of them possibly has a weapon. >> cobb: mm-hmm. >> what would you do as a police officer? you encounter a group of males. one supposedly has a weapon on him. how would you confront the situation? >> cobb: i'm not sure, but that's why i asked the question about can you do this... can this be done in a way that still respects people's rights? i think that's the question that everybody is wondering about policing. >> listen, we try to go out there and respect everybody's rights. >> exactly. >> we're not out here saying, "hey, we're gonna violate this person's rights." that's not what we're here for. i tell you, our main objective is to go home at the end of the night. we have families, we have children. we have wives, we have girlfriends, we have sisters, we have mothers, we have fathers. >> cobb: the gang unit is supposed to write up reports for all the stops and arrests they make. i thought these might help me get more insight into how they justify them, so i filed a public records request.
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but i was told it would take a while. >> new jersey, a state under siege. >> cobb: questions about the newark police go back decades. >> this is the west side, where it all began sunday morning. >> cobb: in the summer of 1967, two white cops beat up a black cab driver, and the city exploded. >> worst race riots rock new jersey's largest city for five consecutive days and nights. >> cobb: newark cops, state police, and the national guard were accused of using unjustified force to put down the riots. >> sniper fire from open windows, scores of police, troopers, guardsmen and civilians are wounded. >> cobb: by the time it was over, a white cop, a white fireman, and 24 black civilians were dead. back then, there was nothing the federal government could do to fix a troubled police department.
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>> our top story this morning comes from los angeles. >> cobb: that changed in the early 1990s, after four white cops were acquitted in the beating of rodney king. >> in the wake of violence spawned by acquittals in the rodney king beating trial. >> a city under smoke, a city, it's safe to say, under siege. >> cobb: the justice department was given the power to investigate local police departments and, if necessary, impose reforms. >> the justice department's civil rights division says the newark police department needs a major overhaul. >> cobb: newark is one of 34 departments since then the doj has ordered to make reforms. >> reverse a pattern of police corruption that has permeated the department and poisoned... >> stop police brutality! >> stop police brutality! >> cobb: the investigation here began after years of complaints about police misconduct from local activists and the aclu. the justice department issued a 49-page report. >> what we found was there were far too many uses of force that
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were excessive, they weren't appropriately documented, and then they certainly weren't investigated well at the end of the day. as a result of the many, many, many complaints that we saw over a six-year period, there was only one complaint of unjustified use of force that was sustained by the police department. and so one of the things that we're going to do now is retrain the police entirely-- getting training on force, getting training on stops and arrests, having the police department in newark think differently about how it does its job and how it relates to the people that it serves. >> from wbgo, this is newark today, our monthly look at what's happening in and around new jersey's largest city. >> cobb: the doj's actions are big news in newark. >> and welcome to newark today. we have some pretty weighty topics to get to tonight. >> cobb: i sat in on a local radio show where the new mayor, ras baraka, talked about the doj
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findings with the man he picked to help change the department, eugene venable. >> were you surprised at these findings? >> no. i mean, i grew up in newark. i know that there are police officers who have done things that they have no business doing. i know that. i've seen them. hanging out, you know, with a lot of guys, you got searched, you got stopped, you got put on the wall, you got put on the ground. and i know how that feels. it's traumatizing. and being black in america, i know that our relationship with the police department has been untenable at best. so it is not surprising in the fact that people will find that police officers have violated people's rights, their constitutional rights in a community. the only difference is now we're going to do something about it. >> cobb: i've actually been friends with ras since we were student activists at howard university in the late 1980s. and i'd been a supporter of his. his father was the radical poet amiri baraka, whose words
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propelled the black power movement of the 1960s and '70s. >> we are communities looking into the sky for a moment on the clear way to liberation. we are cities readying brothers to lead us. we are... >> cobb: during the '67 riots he was beaten severely by newark cops. >> today i feel so good that i am from newark, a boy from clinton avenue and tenth street! >> cobb: ras himself spent years protesting the police. but as mayor, he's trying to bridge the gap between the cops and the community. >> everybody has to have a responsibility. the mayor has a responsibility, yes. the police have a responsibility, yes. we all have a responsibility. and the question is, are you living up to your responsibility? god bless you all, godspeed to y'all. >> cobb: he's been pushing to set up community oversight of the police, and he's also been making himself a regular presence with the cops. i met up with ras one day while
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he was touring some precincts. so we've been out with the gang unit. they're going around and getting guns. getting illegal guns requires you rolling up on folk. how does that happen without being the same sorts of policing that people are protesting about? >> intelligence-- who is actually somebody you should probably stop, and somebody who's just ms. martha's kid going to the store with his hat to the back, right? so i mean, that's... intelligence gets you that information, not just, like, random stops. that's not how you police. i mean, that right there is racism. >> but these are black and brown cops. >> yeah, so what? >> diverse police officer... police force. >> it's not the "who did it" that make it racism. to me it's the fact that overwhelmingly it happens to one specific group of people is what makes it racism. >> is there a point where you look around and go, like, "this is going to be even harder than i thought it would be"?
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>> oh, yeah. it didn't get this way in five years or ten years, and it's not going to take five or ten years to get out of it. and then you got generational poverty, generational unemployment. these buildings have been vacant for 30, 40 years. so they didn't just get vacant when i became the mayor. at the end of the day, there's no tax base like the way you need it, and you're trying to run the state's largest city in those kinds of conditions. this is what we're dealing with, man. >> cobb: i followed him into the communications center, where they'd been having a lot of trouble fielding 911 calls. >> system still down? >> yes. crazy. >> which one of these computers don't work? >> they're not up, they're just not up. >> all those over there, they... >> all are not up, they're not up. newark police, may i help you?
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>> all of those computers over there, they should be... every time i come in here, they ain't never on. we put more people in here they could be on those computers over there. they don't work, though, right? >> they're down right now. >> what you mean, they're down? so you could turn it on and it'll work, if we turned it on? >> i'm not sure, but the last i heard, it wasn't working. >> are you saying it's not working, or it's down? which one? >> it's down, it's not working. >> the calls that's come in now, what's... take me through the process now. >> okay. >> so how long were y'all down? >> friday. but the system is messed up for a long time. and these supervisors, they don't know what's going on. they're not really supervising this stuff like they should. >> they'll receive the calls. they're prioritized by color. the higher priority calls go on a pink card. they'll put the assignments on here. we have a runner who will take the card over here. >> a lot of people think response time sometimes has to do with the police not responding. but a lot of it has to do with communications when they call the police and come pick up the
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phone and being able to get to an officer, all that stuff like that. the first part of it is trying to get this communications office correct. and right now it's not where it should be. >> then the runner will take it from here, walk it over here. >> we've just got to run this thing efficiently and make sure all the equipment work. like monday, they're going to put in a new system, because right now they're doing all this stuff manually. >> the runner, when she comes back over here, the runner will take the card, bring it back over here. >> what we are gonna do is get these police officers out of here. >> cobb: oh, so they'd be out on the street? >> yeah. i don't think any police officer should be in here. i think it's a waste. you've got people with guns in here. i don't know what they... i don't think anybody's coming to rob this place. so... >> somebody robs this place, you'd have big problems. >> yeah, man, it's like, come on. it's like 1,000 cops in here, man. there's too many damn cops in here. this stuff is a disaster, man.
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>> overtime. normally that overtime figure is red; now it's blue. >> cobb: everywhere we went with the mayor, i could see his frustration, even with his hand-picked police director. >> we spent more money last week than we ever have. we spent $140,000 in overtime. and every category that we have, we was down in crime, because of the expenditures that we put out. >> we were down in shootings this thanksgiving as from last thanksgiving? >> yes, by one. >> by one. >> by one. and we was down by one murder. >> so we had to spend a hundred-something thousand dollars to get down one? >> yes, mayor. >> that's not pretty efficient, man. i just think that we need better intelligence, and it's not working. instead of targeting random individual people hoping we, you know, get somebody, we target individuals who we know are known violent felons who've done crimes and are involved in this kind of stuff. >> i agree with you. it's the intelligence that we need. we don't have the intelligence. none of us can really figure out how the intelligence on which people are going to commit
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crimes, murders... and we need to do better at that. >> cobb: one murder in particular was bothering the mayor. a week earlier, a young man died in a gang-related shootout across the street from the police headquarters. >> did any police officers from the precinct come outside when that thing was going on? >> i saw them come outside. >> they came outside? >> yeah, but they didn't get out there instantaneous as the shootings happened. those people that's in the precinct, they don't have a vest on, mayor, they don't have anything. so if there's shots fired outside, i mean, i know they're gonna risk their lives. however, they're not gonna go to the extreme where i'm just going to run outside. they've gotta find out what's going on. "oh, there's somebody out there shooting." so then they run outside. >> oh, wow. they started shooting on madison avenue back and forth. they came all the way down the street. the guy emptied his gun out. another guy shot him. a series of bullets.
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they're sitting in the precinct. nobody heard any of that. you're saying they sat in there because they were afraid? >> no, i'm not saying that. >> what are you saying? >> i'm talking about whether they were on the scene instantaneously to stop these guys from doing the shooting. >> okay. let's stop. let's stop. all right. >> cobb: two weeks later, ras demoted venable and put him in charge of the communications center. >> stick to police work. >> cobb: a world away from that conference room, the gang unit was still trying to make a dent in all the shootings. >> raymond, look at him! >> come on, bro. >> look at him! >> cobb: we went out with tremayne phillips, a second- generation newark cop, and nate lhowe, a new jersey state parole officer assigned to the unit. right out of the gate, they get a tip.
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>> yeah, pull over so i can give you guys the info, and then we've got to roll. >> all right, all right, received. >> one of our guys is saying they might have heard info relating to someone having a handgun. so we'll come up with a plan. >> black male, blue jean jacket. he's on nutman walking toward new street, so he'll probably be on new street. >> all right. >> showtime. >> out front. >> don't (bleep) move, (bleep). >> guys, we got it-- we got the weapon, we got the weapon. >> cuff him. >> cuff him, cuff him. >> cuff him, and that's it. >> all right, all right, all right. >> clear, weapon clear. >> bring him back, bring him
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back. all right, sir, you dropped a gun, okay? >> probably not. >> he says he's good. >> all right. >> six. >> one was in the chamber, right? so the gun was ready to fire? >> just in the past month we've gotten numerous guns off that same block, that same area right there. >> cobb: intelligence pays off, but later that evening i see what happens without it. >> hold on, hold on! >> stop, stop, stop. >> you want to pull away from me, man, you're going to get hurt. >> stop resisting. >> all right, just cuff him for safety, cuff him for safety.
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>> stop. just stop, sir. just stop. >> sir, you're not under arrest. this is just for your safety and our safety. all right, bring him up to his feet. >> stand up, man. why are you acting like a jerk, bro? we stopped you to talk to you. >> you can't pull away from a cop. >> yes, you did, sir, okay, you pulled away from me. >> bro, i said, "don't touch me, please." because y'all pulling up, what the (bleep) did i do? nothing, i'm walking home. >> we'll explain everything to you. >> you don't even know what the hell's going... i'm going home. >> yeah, that's why we're stopping to talk to you. >> i am going home. >> when you start pulling away, it's on. >> i didn't pull away from nobody! >> if you want to do that, we could do that. >> do what? >> listen. where you live at? >> do you understand the reason why you're cuffed? >> no. >> all right. now, when we came and approached you, what did you do? you automatically pushed away from us. >> no, i said, "don't touch me," and kept walking. >> listen, you're making us think you have a weapon, the way you ran away. okay? understand that. >> oh, man. okay. >> listen, just relax. >> you got it?
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find out who he is. >> turn around, we're going to walk, okay? my man, it's not wise to pull away from us like that, you hear? >> not my fault, man. >> all right? >> you were drinking today? >> yes, i was, actually. >> let me ask you, if you were to drink less, would this ever happen? >> i only had one beer, and yes it would have, because we see so much violence going on in the hoods right now. and not just the hoods, everywhere. you know, this... the violence from police is crazy right now. and the way y'all approached me, all i was doing was walking home. if y'all would have said, "young man, what are you doing?" >> what are you doing today? >> going home. i don't care about the... >> you see how fast that was? >> do not stereotype, because that's what y'all did to me. >> we have an arrest. >> against who? >> him! narcotics. >> who? >> the dude you was walking with. >> no! what do you mean, he had drugs on him? no, he didn't! >> yes, he did. >> what do you mean? he was with me all day. >> he's in the car with us. >> well, he has drugs today. >> come on, bro. i don't know what y'all trying to pull. y'all ain't find no drugs on me, right? >> that's why you're free to go, that's why you're not in cuffs! have a good day, sir. >> y'all be easy.
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>> thank you, terrone. as soon as i approached him, he was immediately hostile. so, i basically went to just control his hand in case... you know, fearing that he might have had a weapon or something. or, you know, just to basically get a little physical control over him. and at that point, he pulled away from me, so i decided to take him to the ground and just get him under control and then determine what was going on with him. i didn't deal with the other kid, but it looked like the other kid had... was arrested for possession of cds, so, i mean, they were involved in something. i mean, it might have been fairly minor, but it was something. >> cobb: while the officers seemed certain about that stop, i remained troubled by it. i requested the report on the incident, and also wanted to know what the unit's supervisor, sergeant conzentino, thought of how it went down.
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>> cobb: i wanted to kind of go through something that we shot the other day. and it's of an encounter... >> with the gang unit? >> with the gang unit. >> yo! yo! >> don't touch me, bro. don't touch me. hold up! >> get on the (bleep) ground! >> hold up, hold up, hold up! i'm not doing nothing! i'm not doing nothing! come on, man! come on, come on. >> stop, stop, stop, stop, stop. you wanna pull away from me, man, you're going to get hurt. all right, just cuff him for safety. >> i didn't do nothing. >> stop. just stop, sir. just stop. >> sir, you're not under arrest. this is just for your safety and our safety, okay? >> i'm going home. >> yeah, that's why we're stopping you to talk to you. when you start pulling away, it's on. >> i didn't pull away from nobody! >> cobb: so was that a good stop? not a good stop? >> you know what? it starts at the point where they encountered him. i would have to read the report to see exactly how that unfolded. but i understand that by perception, by perception only, that would look like it was a bad stop, by perception.
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>> cobb: i think what disturbed me most about that video was that i think if i had been in that position, i would have pulled away too. almost by human instinct, if you're surrounded by people who are coming at you in a rush, you're going to back up. and that was kind of seen as justification for... >> see, i understand what you're saying, but see, this is where we differ. see, my thing is... and again, if i get stopped by the police-- and i am a police officer-- i listen. i routinely put my hand, if i'm in the car, up on the roof. i take all the precautions, too. but in that situation there, or any situation, i think i would have complied. i understand what your instincts are, but when you say you're being surrounded, you're being surrounded by officers that you can clearly see are officers. i don't believe it had to go there, if he would've just... >> cobb: but see, this is the thing, like, the key difference, which is that, you know, kind of
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being surrounded by police is not a position in which you feel like you're safe, for someone like me. >> i understand that. >> cobb: i would say, you know, i don't know what's happening here, i don't know what the agenda of these people is, i know i'm surrounded. the idea of complying is like, sure, that may be your second thought. your immediate thought is, you know, "i'm in jeopardy." like, "what's happening here?" i think that fundamentally the difference is, do you... if you are surrounded by police officers, do you feel more safe or less safe than you were two minutes earlier? >> right, and what needs to be, is that you need to feel like you're safe, and that you can explain, and then the situation's over. it's not that way right now. >> cobb: in that moment, you're actually about to make a stop of this person, where's your head? >> i'll admit there's times when i have fear. and i think fear is probably one of your best friends. and there are times when you hear gunshots and we have to run to those shots. most people can't equate or understand what that's about. your heart rate, when it starts to increase, and, you know, you're running.
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and then you're gonna encounter someone, and you may ultimately have to wrestle with that person. you've got some bad people out there that have no problem going to the mat with a police officer and trying to take their gun, and maybe even using it against them. so i don't think anybody could ever understand the stress of the situation. >> cobb: i've heard about the stress of the job over and over again. many cops today feel like they're under siege from all sides. especially james stewart, the president of newark's largest police union. >> i'm a fourth-generation police officer here in newark. my great-grandfather started in 1890, my grandfather, my father, who retired in 2003, and now me. and i'm in my 21st year. i don't know that too many more guys want their family members to follow in their footsteps the way this profession's going. and specifically the way things
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are going here in newark. somewhere along the line we have become the bad guy. everybody's against us. you know, f the police. that's become the way of the community now. you know, i mean, who is the guy that's going to say, "i want to go be a newark cop"? they have minimal starting pay. we're gonna take away half of your benefits. we have our own administration against us here. and you got the department of justice overseeing your department. who's gonna want the job? after taco bell says no, and after sears says no, and mcdonald's won't have you, "well, maybe the newark police department's hiring." you know, "let me go see what they've got to offer." >> cobb: what do you think the prospects for reform are here? >> i know it's a necessity. i don't know where the problem started, but there is an animosity or a lack of trust. you know, as soon as there's any sort of physical force exerted by a police officer, everybody's got their cell phones out. you know, they want to catch us doing something wrong. you know, no one's jumping in to help us subdue this guy that
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just robbed a woman down the street, but they want to catch us doing something wrong. and when you got the cop out there in the street facing all this negative opposition day in and day out, does it come a point when the police officer's going to say, "you know what? maybe he doesn't have to go to jail." you know, "maybe i'll take the path of least resistance, maybe i'll put the blinders on as i'm driving by the corner where the ten guys are hanging out." you know, is that what the community wants, too? >> i can't imagine too many folks in newark would just want the police to stand down. but i did want to talk to people here about how they feel about the department. so i went to visit an old friend of mine, ryan haygood. sir? >> how are you doing? >> cobb: good to see you. >> can't believe that i saw you in the mini cooper. >> cobb: i know, that's me. that is me, the mini cooper out there, yeah. i love that thing. he's an attorney and a longtime resident who hosts a regular block watch meeting of his
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neighbors. he invited some of them over to meet with me. were you all surprised to find that the police department was under investigation by the department of justice? >> no, i wasn't. >> cobb: why not? >> because i know the history of the newark police department. i'm 65. so i'm probably a littler older or might be the oldest thing in this room. and the newark police department-- and we're talking about '70s and, i guess, the '60s-- they treated african americans very unfair. truly unfair. there's a culture, and particularly dealing with white policemen. they see young black men or black men as thugs. so for me, in order to survive, you have to know the system. there's certain clothes i won't wear. i will never fit the profile. i taught my son and my daughter that. >> it depends on the socioeconomic or the profile of the individuals in how you experience the police. i certainly believe that there is an expectation that the police are going to crack down on the level of murders, the
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violence, the robberies that are taking place. >> i teach first grade, so seven-year-olds. and so i have little boys in my classroom who are like, "oh, no, i don't like the police." they're saying to me that, you know, "well, the police came in my house and they got my dad." or, "they stripped someone from my house." and it's, like, a violent encounter with the police. when seven-year-olds have a repulsive response to the police, you have a problem. >> cobb: we've been out on patrol with some officers who are making a major initiative to get guns off the street. and you know, they're kind of stopping people. they're pulling over... frisking people in some instances. and i have to say that what i saw was very disturbing. this is what people have said is necessary in order to get guns off the street. >> i don't see an inconsistency with the respecting people's constitutional rights and protecting public safety. in our area we do have neighbors who have been victimized in violent ways by crime.
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but it doesn't mean that police officers can, in three out of four of the stops, violate people's constitutional rights. and police officers, as they've been under investigation in newark for many years, when they were violating rights, the city wasn't safer. so it's not the case to say that if you violate constitutional rights it's a safer society. >> but that's the position that they put us in, our communities in. they make it seem like, "well, this is the way we have to do it." we know it's not true. i mean, if you watch cops, the television show, you see white people going off on police officers, and nothing happens to these people. and it's really bad that we are in a position where you say, "well, mother, do you want this to raise your child in a safer neighborhood?" and what do you think we're gonna say? "do whatever you can do to keep my neighborhood safe." it's bad when they put us in a position to say, "do you want this, or do you want that?" >> cobb: in newark, you are reminded of that bind all too often on the local news. a couple of months after i was out with them, the newark gang unit was a top story. >> eighth grader jamod watkins
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was allegedly assaulted by undercover officers in newark-- officers his attorney says failed to initially identify themselves. >> these police officers knocked him down and grabbed his left arm and pulled it behind his back with such force that it cracked it in half. >> cobb: it turns out one of the officers is wilberto ruiz. >> they get confused whether we're actually criminals. they say, "oh, i thought you guys were the stickup guys," or, "i thought you guys was gonna rob me." >> cobb: the department is investigating the allegations, but he has already been disciplined for not filing a report about the incident. we also found out that another officer we'd met in the gang unit, kenneth gaulette, was suspended and charged for allegedly coercing a woman to perform oral sex in exchange for leniency. he's pled not guilty. >> let's give a hand for our mayor, ras j. baraka. >> thank you. 20 percent of the neighborhoods
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is experiencing the majority of the violence in the city. so if you live in that 20 percent area, it feels like hell to you. >> cobb: over the past two years, ras has been struggling to clean up the department. after demoting his first police director, he hired back a man who had led the department a decade earlier, anthony ambrose. >> ...because of fearing retaliation. i think that if you see something, say something. >> cobb: i was surprised that ras turned to the old guard of the newark police. in the midst of reform, you brought in a public safety director from a previous time in newark. he's been here when, you know, many of the problems occurred. and so i didn't understand how that lent itself to reform. >> i think our problem is larger than just an individual, though. so it's a systemic problem that we have. i think that he had the demeanor, the respect of the
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people in the department. and we obviously... the direction that we're going in is not a backward direction, but a forward direction. and if he can go in a forward direction with us, then we welcome him to be a part of that. unfortunately, it's not a very easy process. it's difficult. any change is difficult. you know, especially in an entrenched institution like a police department. >> cobb: we talked with a lot of people on the police force who don't really seem to see a problem here. >> sure. you know, it's a fresh wound. it's like, it's not... i mean, there's going to be a level of denial. you're talking about people who have to admit that there was some wrongdoing. if they don't see that at all, then it's difficult to change them. and so most of the work is about, how do you change the culture of police officers to prevent this? >> cobb: ras says that change is already starting to
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happen. so i went for one last ride-along with a cop i was told represents a different kind of policing that's not just about making arrests, but building trust and relationships. >> we're going to go over to riverview court. for the past few months there has been a spike in violent crime, specifically shootings. we had a few murders within the complex. so we can start gathering up intelligence. >> cobb: sergeant rasheen peppers works in the criminal intelligence unit. >> because we know in the word "community" there's unity. >> that's right. >> pray for unity in our community. >> cobb: when we arrived, there was a vigil for a man who was murdered the day before. >> you will see that these drugs in our community is the enemy. that they were set up to destroy our people. >> cobb: and peppers worked the crowd for leads.
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>> you can see just being here for a few seconds how, because of relationships, people, "oh, peppers is here," you know, "peppers, you can talk to her." >> stop the violence. >> stop the violence. >> cobb: after just a few minutes a woman agreed to speak to him in private about what she'd seen. >> she gave me everything from what happened. she says, "i was there. i was right next to the person, this is what took place." you just don't get that from being a cop. you get that from relationships. so if i wasn't a guy who was part of the community, and i only came out just to do policing, right, that might be an issue if someone trusted to tell me this information. so you have to be a part of the community. you have to be a stakeholder in the community. >> cobb: i mean, i think that's notable to me, because that's so distinct from what the department of justice report said about the newark police department. what's in that report and the department of justice investigation is not policing that looks like that.
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>> okay, and i agree, right? what's in the report, no. it shows that, you know, we were violating people's rights. you know, and granted, some officers were. >> cobb: so what do you think the biggest challenge is to creating the type of police force that you are describing in newark? >> changing the culture. that's the biggest challenge. getting officers to buy in, to... there's a new way of policing; policing has evolved. that's the hardest part. you know, and that's with anyone that's been stuck doing one thing one way for 20 years, and saying, "look, this is how it should be. we've done it wrong. now we can get it right." >> cobb: we drove on to a different neighborhood, where peppers was looking for intel on yet another murder. >> we're going to go up here. they had a murder yesterday of a
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female, early 40s. she was shot in the head. she just had her earphones on. she didn't even see it coming. >> cobb: good lord. >> but at the end of the day, it could be our moms, you know, our sisters, it could be any of us. >> cobb: but while he tries to work with the community, the community doesn't always want to work with him. >> hey, what's up, man? can i talk to you for a second? >> now, one reason i'm glad that happened is because, you know, that goes to show you how they don't want you... there's those that don't want you in the community, right? there's those who think it's uncool to speak to the cops, but it's cool to have shrines like this up and down a block. you know, this to them is cool,
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okay? and, you know, how do we change that mentality? >> this is the train to newark, penn station. >> cobb: after spending a year in and out of newark, there are no easy answers. recently, the gang unit we'd spt so much time with was disbanded. most of the guys were put on desk jobs. and more changes are coming. the city and the department of justice finally reached an agreement that mandates new policies and training, requirements for body cameras, and standards for punishing officers for misconduct. >> ain't no power like the power of the people, 'cause the power of the people don't stop. >> say what? >> cobb: the doj also demanded some form of civilian oversight of the department, which ras had been pushing for, too. in march, the city council voted on his plan to create a panel of
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civilians with the power to investigate cops. >> i am going to ask the long line of citizens who wish to speak in support of the ordinance itself, would you please raise your hands? is there anyone who is opposed? >> for 50 years the people of newark have been calling for the creation of a civilian review board. for 50 years those calls have gone unanswered, until tonight. (cheers and applause) >> motion to close the public hearing and adopt. councilor... >> yes. >> jenkins? >> yes. >> macallen? >> yes. >> osborne? >> yes. >> quintana? >> yes. >> ramos? >> yes. >> president crump? >> unanimously, yes. >> cobb: the hope is to overcome an historic lack of
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transparency, something i've gotten a taste of myself. when the department responded to my request for records from the nights we'd been with the gang unit, they shed little light on what we'd seen. they gave me some arrest reports, but nothing related to the stops, the frisks, or even the incident when the young man was thrown to the ground. first, they said they couldn't find the reports. then they said they couldn't give them to us because of privacy concerns and ongoing investigations. >> hello, officer. >> hello, officer. >> what you want to be, eh? >> what you want to be, eh? >> in the npd! >> in the npd! >> company, halt. >> cobb: reforming the police in newark is clearly going to be a long haul. and the problems go beyond police alone.
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but ras has no choice but to believe that change is possible. >> this city is moving forward with a whole different police culture, and you are the beginning of that. >> cobb: a belief he wants to instill in this graduating class of 43 newark rookies. >> people begin to believe that their community is safe simply because you showed up. where you walk, justice walks with you. when you walk in a neighborhood, goodness follows you wherever you go. and show up clean so we can get rid of this cloud over our head of wrongdoing. you're the first class, my class. and those who come after you are going to follow your lead. the question is, where are you going to take them? (applause) >> congratulations, ladies and gentlemen.
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welcome to the newark police department. (cheers and applause) >> we created chaos, we abandoned that chaos, we created isis. >> zarqawi was responsible for attacks in 2003. >> zarqawi can direct his network in the middle east and beyond. >> it made him an international rock star in the jihadist community. >> zarqawi was ours for the taking. >> and we weren't doing anything about it. zarqawi achieved what he wanted to achieve. >> narrator: next time on frontline. >> go to for more on policing in newark and the efforts to reform. explore the justice department's investigations of police departments nationwide. more from mayor ras baraka... >> any change is difficult.
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>> and correspondent jelani cobb about the making of this film. >> can this be done in a way that still respects people's rights? >> connect to the frontline community on facebook and twitter. then sign up for our newsletter at >> frontlinis made possible by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. and by the corporation for public broadcasting. major support for frontliis provided by the john d. and catherine t. macarthur foundation, committed to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. more information is available at additional support is provided by the park foundation, dedicated to heightening public awareness of critical issues. the john and helen glessner family trust, supporting trustworthy journalism that informs and inspires. the ford foundation, working with visionaries on the front lines of social change worldwide. at the wyncote foundation. and by the frontline journalism
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fund, with major support from jon and jo ann hagler, and additional support from the douglas drane family fund. captioned by media access group at wgbh >> for more on this and other frontline programs, visit our website at >> frontline'"policing the police" is available on dvd. to order, visit or ca1-800-play-pbs. frontline is also available for download on itunes.
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♪music a little girl coming in, a third grader, covered in dirt with one flip-flop. the other one busted on the way in, this was uh, january. i could call her mom and say, you know, where's her shoes? be mad and call 241-kids and say this is neglect. or i can just find a way to get this girl a shoe.


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