ORANGE, NJ — For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic turned daily life upside down, Orange’s Police Community Council had an in-person meeting. Residents set up socially distanced lawn chairs in the parking lot of Bethel Baptist Church on July 16 and discussed community policing issues with officers in the Orange Police Department, Councilwoman Jamie Summers-Johnson, Councilwoman Adrienne Wooten and Mayor Dwayne Warren.
“There was standing room only,” Summers-Johnson said about the last meeting in March in an interview with the Record-Transcript at the meeting. “We didn’t want to lose the momentum. We want new residents to feel a part of Orange, and we want them to be able to speak to the police directly.”
Many topics were brought up by residents at the meeting, including noise complaints, coronavirus restrictions and parking meters. Crime rates were also discussed, as was the possibility of creating a civilian review police board.
“Our success is based on the community,” Police Director Todd Warren said at the meeting. “We’re all working together as a community and we want to continue to do that.”
One program Todd Warren highlighted is Orange’s anonymous crime tip line, which residents can reach by calling or texting 973-666-0097. The identity of the caller is not needed, and the police don’t need any information other than the location of the crime. The other program Todd Warren discussed is the department’s prison readjustment program, which helps people who have recently been released from prison get acclimated to being on their own.
“Folks that return from incarceration need help,” he said. “They’ve paid their dues and they deserve help. We put this pressure on them to get a job, and, if they can’t, they get sent back. We need to help those folks reintegrate back into society.”
Several people at the meeting, including resident Gloria Boseman, asked about ending qualified immunity — which protects police officers from civil lawsuits unless it can be proved that they clearly violated an individual’s constitutional rights — and about creating a civilian review board that would include community members and can investigate police misconduct incidents separate from internal affairs.
“I see you more than I used to, and I appreciate that,” Boseman said to the OPD officers at the meeting. “I appreciate the visibility. But I think there’s a way to establish a community board that will include the community in the decision-making process.”
An ordinance to create a civilian complaint review board passed on first reading at the June 16 city council meeting, and at the police meeting on July 16 Summers-Johnson said the second reading was pulled from a subsequent meeting for legal review. The mayor explained that a case in front of the New Jersey Supreme Court will determine the powers that Newark’s Civilian Complaint Review Board has, which will in turn determine what Orange can do.
“Nothing in the New Jersey constitution gives civilians the right to internal affairs reviews,” the mayor said. “We expect the Supreme Court will give guidelines. Then we’ll figure out what we can do if we move forward.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic