NJ Attorney General To Take Over Paterson Police Operations, Live Stream Link Here

“There is no safety without trust,” New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said in announcing a state takeover of the day-to-day operations of the Paterson Police Department and plans to include mental health professionals in responses to barricaded individuals there and statewide.

Paterson police

Paterson police

Photo Credit: Paterson Police Ceasefire Unit

Experience has shown that both moves are absolutely necessary at the moment, the state’s top law enforcement officer said.

“There is a crisis of confidence in law enforcement in this city,” Platkin said, speaking outside the Frank X. Graves Jr. Public Safety Complex on Broadway on March 27.

“Under these circumstances I cannot deliver on my duty to protect the people of Paterson and to keep the officers safe who are sworn to protect them,” he said.

“When residents and officers are not supported, when the fragile trust between the two essential parts of our community are frayed -- or as I believe to be the case here: decimated -- then people are not safe,” the attorney general said. “Something has to change, and it will change, starting now.”

Platkin emphasized that he’s taking these steps not just for residents and activist groups but for the crime fighters, as well.

“There are many officers in this building and on these streets who care deeply about the residents here and who desperately want to earn their trust,” he said.

Those officers – as well as all others in law enforcement in New Jersey – “must be provided with professional leadership and the resources necessary to foster innovation and crime reduction, nurture a police culture built on the foundation of integrity and respect, and ensure the overall wellness of our officers,” the attorney general said.

Going forward, Platkin said, 25-year NYPD veteran Isa Abbassi will become the officer in charge of the department in May.

Until then, he said, command of the Paterson force will be handled by New Jersey State Police Major Fred Fife, assisted by NJSP Capt. Jafca Mandziuk, Assistant Attorney General Joseph Walsh and key members of his and State Police Supt. Col. Patrick J. Callahan’s staff.

Abbassi was awarded NYPD’s most prestigious command recognition, the Unit Citation, for rebuilding community relations with police on Staten Island following the death of African-American resident Eric Gardner during an arrest in 2014. He’s currently the NYPD’s chief of strategic initiatives and managed command of more than 30,000 members as deputy chief.

“Exercising control over the police department and bringing in nationally recognized police leadership is just the first of many steps we will take together to build a safer and more just city of Paterson,” Platkin said Monday.

“Make no mistake: We will reduce crime in this city,” he added. “And we will do it while restoring trust between residents and police. Those two goals go hand in hand. There is no safety without trust.”

The attorney general asked residents, officers and community leaders to work with him.

“I know that the announcements that I’m making here today will not quell the strife in the city of Paterson overnight,” he said. “It will not immediately restore public confidence that the police are committed to providing every resident of Paterson with fair, just and effective public safety.”

At the same time, Platkin conceded, the moves “will not eliminate the concerns of officers asked to do a hard and dangerous job in a community that after years of fiscal challenges and a revolving door of police leadership, has lost faith in its police department, making the jobs of those officers difficult and in some cases more dangerous.

“I want you to know that I hear these concerns, too.”

A partnership is needed, the attorney general said.

“To those of you who may not yet be on board, I think we all can agree that the status quo is not working,” Platkin said. “So even if I can’t convince you today to work with us, I ask that you give us time, that you let us show you what we can do, that you not work to undermine the important reforms we will be making.

“We will succeed here. I will accept nothing less.

“One day in the not-too-distant future, the Paterson police department will come out of the other side of this reformation as an example of excellence and innovation in policing and as a source of pride for the residents of this city and officers of this department.”

Platkin also used the news conference to announce statewide initiatives that he’s pursuing involving law enforcement’s use of lethal force and mental health professionals in dealing with barricaded individuals and others in crisis.

A “holistic approach to public safety” has become critical amid the escalating number of incidents involving people in crisis who end up being treated – rightly or wrongly – as criminals, he said.

Citizens throughout the state must be confident that officers who are “called on in times of emergency or distress” will provide solutions aimed at resolving incidents peacefully and will not “escalate situations or exacerbate vulnerabilities.”

Plans are already underway to bring the ARRIVE Together program to Paterson, Platkin said.

It pairs a plainclothes officer trained in crisis intervention with a mental health screener in an unmarked vehicle to respond to 911 calls for service “related to mental health or a behavioral health crisis,” he said.

It's worked successfully in a number of counties and is being expanded statewide, the attorney general said. Establishing it in Paterson is “one of our top priorities,” he said.

Platkin said he’s also bringing members of his office, experts and “stakeholders” in mental health issues together to revise the state’s use-of-force policy to include protocols for dealing with barricaded individuals.

Such people are often confronted by police “in a room or confined space” and pose a “significant risk” not just to law enforcement but to other civilians, he said.

Platkin said he also wants to encourage partnerships between law enforcement and violence intervention groups, which he said have already been proven to “improve public safety outcomes.”

A number of issues had the city in turmoil before Paterson non-violence activist Najee Seabrooks was shot and killed following an hours-long standoff on March 3.

Seabrooks was in the middle of an apparent drug-induced mental health crisis at the time.

He had two bloody knives, at least one of which he'd been cutting himself with, in his bathroom, as a knot of Paterson police officers in tactical gear tried to talk him into surrendering, video released by Platkin's office shows.

SEE: Video Shows Paterson Non-Violence Activist Bursting From Bathroom With Knife When He's Shot

Platkin's office is reviewing the shooting, as it does all such incidents involving police, both under state law and his office's guidelines.

Loved ones, activists and others say Seabrooks would still be alive today if the police had handled the situation differently.

They have called on the city to establish a civilian crisis-assistance team comprised of social workers and intervention specialists for such cases.

Activists are also demanding a civilian complaint review board to probe allegations of police wrongdoing.

Mayor Andre Sayegh has spoken out against the Police Department and pushed for state involvement.

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