The city could soon become the latest in the country to have its police department fall under the oversight of a federally appointed monitor.

A spokeswoman for Newark, the state's largest city, said Monday that officials were in discussions with the Department of Justice, which initiated an investigation into its police department nearly three years ago after allegations that residents' complaints about excessive force and unlawful arrest were routinely mishandled.

"A monitor is likely but has not been definitively decided," Esmerelda Diaz Cameron, spokeswoman for Mayor Luis Quintana, said in an email. "The City of Newark has been working cooperatively with the Department of Justice in connection with its review of (Newark Police Department) procedures. The City and the Department of Justice are working to ensure that best practices are followed within the Newark Police Department."

If a monitor is appointed, Newark would join other cities including Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Seattle in being subjected to federal oversight. The Star-Ledger first reported the pending appointment of a monitor for Newark.

The Department of Justice's investigation in Newark, announced in May 2011, came months after New Jersey's American Civil Liberties Union chapter filed a complaint alleging rampant misconduct and lax internal oversight in the police department.

Among the ACLU's claims in the filing were that out of more than 200 complaints filed with the police department in 2008 and 2009 only one, alleging an improper search, was upheld. The city paid nearly $5 million over a 2 1/2-year period to settle lawsuits brought against the police department by residents or employees, the ACLU said.

ACLU New Jersey's executive director, Udi Ofer, said Monday that he welcomed the possibility of a monitor being appointed. But he said that steps such as creating a civilian review board and an inspector general's office must be taken to ensure the reforms are long-lasting.

"Oversight has to outlast any one federal monitor," he said. "The reforms must be permanent."

Then-Mayor Cory Booker announced last March a plan to create a civilian review board to monitor police, but he stepped down to successfully campaign for a U.S. Senate seat last year, and no board has been created.

Police Director Samuel DeMaio and Newark Superior Officers Association president John Chrystal didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Monday. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment.