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Scarinci: Good Leaders Need and Accept Help

By Donald Scarinci, May 08 2023 10:30 am

The City of Paterson Police Department is the latest law enforcement takeover by the New Jersey Attorney General.  If the takeover proves to be as effective as the Camden City takeover, it will be a big win for Paterson and another great achievement on what is becoming a long list of great achievements by Mayor Andre Sayegh.

Mayor Sayegh has joined hands in partnership with the Attorney General, but he is right to insist on financial and other resources that are sorely needed in Paterson in order to assure success.

State Now in Control of Paterson Police Department

The state takeover follows the death of Najee Seabrooks, a violence intervention specialist with the Paterson Healing Collective. On March 3, Seabrooks suffered a mental health crisis that lead to an hours-long standoff with police, who fatally shot him. Body camera recordings released to the public showed the police officers’ efforts to end the standoff peacefully. Seabrook’s tragic death is one of many incidents that have soured public confidence in the Paterson Police Department over the past several years.

Seabrook’s death caused a public outcry, with many demanding federal intervention. On March 20, Sayegh rejected any federal involvement, saying that significant progress in police reform was already underway, and federal resources would be more effective in other community programs. Nevertheless, the surprise announcement of the state takeover came the following week.

The NJ Attorney General’s Office immediately assumed control of all functions of the Paterson Police Department. In May, Isa Abbassi, the Chief of Strategic Initiatives for the New York City Police Department (NYPD), will become the Officer-in-Charge in Paterson. Abbassi, a 25-year veteran of the NYPD, oversees policy reforms for the entire police force and was tasked with rebuilding community relationships in response to Eric Garner’s 2014 death in police custody.

“We are on the ground now in Paterson, effective Monday morning, leading day-to-day operations of the police department, again, focused on rebuilding and restoring trust, while also supporting the officers that have a difficult and often dangerous job in that city,” Platkin said.

Local Support Is Critical to Police Reform

Expected changes by the Attorney General will build upon reforms already implemented, including the establishment of the Task Force on De-Escalation and Police Practices and making a police officer’s use of force record a key factor in determining eligibility for promotion. Mayor Sayegh also previously welcomed the Attorney General’s Office through the Passaic County Prosecutor to assist with the police department’s Internal Affairs process. In September 2022, the Prosecutor’s Office ended its 17-month oversight of that division.

Given the ongoing challenges, a police takeover is the best way to implement changes and to restore public confidence. As Mayor Sayegh said,. “Our goal is to improve the way that we protect and serve our public,” Sayegh said. “It would go a long way to being one of the best police departments we can be in this country.” Attorney General Platkin agreed. “He’s an elected mayor, and I do believe he cares deeply about the city,” he stated.

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