State Takes Total Control of Paterson, NJ, Police Amid ‘Crisis of confidence’
PATERSON — The state Attorney General's Office is taking complete control of every aspect of the Paterson police and will appoint its own man to lead the department.
Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced on Monday that the OAG will oversee all operations including the internal affairs division. Then starting in May, NYPD Chief of Strategic Initiatives Isa Abbassi will take the helm as officer-in-charge with the task of reforming the department.
The police department's public image has taken a series of hits in recent years. Six Paterson cops including former Sgt. Michael Cheff and five subordinates were sentenced last year for conspiring to deprive citizens of their civil rights and falsifying police records.
Platkin said at a press conference that the state would not leave until its work of reforming the department was done.
“Due to a number of events and concerns relating to the Paterson Police Department, there is a crisis of confidence in law enforcement in the City of Paterson,” Platkin said. “People throughout Paterson deserve a public safety system that protects and serves all members of its community, just as the members of the Paterson Police Department deserve adequate resources, support, and innovation from their leadership."
Mayor Andre Sayegh said Platkin assured him the state would provide financial and other resources. He added that the city is "eager" to build upon its reforms for the police department.
“We will do everything we can to continue to improve our Police Department for the residents of Paterson," Sayegh said.
Reforming the Paterson police department
In announcing the takeover, Platkin's office also laid out three initiatives for the Paterson police and the state.
One initiative would bring the ARRIVE Together program to Paterson and Passaic County. The program pairs officers with mental health screeners for responses to mental or behavioral health crises. It's already been rolled out for Cumberland, Union, and Atlantic Counties.
Another would create a working group focused on interactions between community-based violence intervention groups and law enforcement. The third measure would revise the state Use of Force Policy for situations involving a barricaded individual.
The three measures are possibly a direct response to the fatal police-involved shooting of Najee Seabrooks, 31, on March 3.
Activist group: State takeover of Paterson police not enough
Najee Seabrooks was shot by two Paterson officers around 12:35 p.m. after a standoff with police lasting nearly five hours, according to the OAG. Authorities said the violence intervention activist with the Paterson Healing Collective had barricaded himself in his apartment bathroom after a bad reaction to "something he had smoked" that morning.
The state said that Seabrooks had lunged at police with more than one knife before he was shot by the officers. But activists said that the shooting could have been avoided if members of the PHC had been allowed by police to speak with Seabrooks during his crisis.
The New Jersey Violence Intervention and Prevention Coalition called the takeover a "necessary first step" in a statement Monday. But it said the measure did not go far enough and demanded the removal of every official in a leadership position at the time of Seabrooks's death.
"Paterson must be compelled to invest in a non-carceral crisis response team made-up of fully funded and trained community members and there needs to be change at the highest levels of law enforcement in Passaic County. By taking over the Paterson police the Attorney General is acknowledging there have been transgressions and that harm has been committed."
A group of 11 faith leaders in Paterson sent a letter to Mayor Sayegh and members of city council demanding a meeting about the shooting. They also called for a crisis response team staffed by unarmed civilians, a community civilian review board with disciplinary authority, and the "termination of all actors responsible for the careless killing of Najee Seabrooks."
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey commended the takeover in a statement.
“Today’s announcement by the New Jersey Attorney General is a welcome step given the abusive, violent, and harmful policing that has been endemic in Paterson for years, and that, most recently, claimed the life of Najee Seabrooks. Despite what some politicians have expressed, acts of violence by police are not isolated events and require systemic change.