August 19, 2011 / 6:41 PM / 6 years ago

Newark, New Jersey gets first female police chief

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Newark, New Jersey has sworn in its top-ranking police officials, including the first woman to serve as police chief in the state's largest force.

Taking the top post of Police Director is Samuel DeMaio, succeeding Garry McCarthy who left to run Chicago's police department under Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The new police chief, Sheilah Coley, who reports to DeMaio, is the first woman to hold the rank in the department of more than 1,100 officers.

The state's largest city with 280,000 residents, Newark has struggled with a high crime rate, especially homicides, gun violence and auto theft. The police department was forced to lay off 167 officers at the end of last year due to budget cuts.

"I have a renewed sense of hope as a result of the new leadership that we are swearing in today," said Mayor Cory Booker at Thursday's ceremony.

Newark's police department is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice which said in May it had gotten civil rights complaints and claims of excessive force tied to seven deaths.

The probe is focused on charges police use excessive force, treat detainees poorly, conduct illegal stops, searches and arrests and retaliate against civilians who attempt to observe or record police activity, the Justice Department said.

Coley headed the department's Office of Professional Standards before she was appointed as acting police chief earlier this month.

Both DeMaio and Coley are longtime department veterans, Booker said.

The position of police chief was dissolved in 2008, when the job of chief was to handle day-to-day operations and the job of director was to handle policy.

The position of police chief was reinstated by the City Council earlier this month.

Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst; Editing by Jerry Norton

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