NJ AG to Take Over Scandal-Plagued Paterson Police Department

At least eight officers in Paterson, NJ's third-largest city, have been charged in recent years in connection with a long-running corruption probe

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The New Jersey Attorney General's Office will take over the scandal-plagued Paterson Police Department, Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced Monday -- all in an effort to strengthen the trust between local law enforcement and the Paterson community after a string of controversial incidents and cases over the years.

"Effective immediately my office has assumed all control of law enforcement functions of the Paterson Police Department," Platkin announced in a press conference.

The news comes after a string of high-profile arrests within the ranks of the police department.

At least eight Paterson police officers have been charged in recent years with corruption in a long-running probe

Many of the officers arrested to date have pleaded guilty in federal court. The conspiracy involved illegal searches and vehicle stops, thefts from drug suspects and assaults.

According to court documents, certain Paterson police officers stopped and searched motor vehicles, without any justification, and stole cash and other items from the occupants of the motor vehicles. These officers also illegally stopped and searched individuals in buildings or on the streets of Paterson and seized cash from them. Some routinely received a portion of these stolen monies from some of these officers and signed off on corresponding false police reports about the underlying incidents, according to court documents.

In 2016, a sergeant who was found guilty following a trial related to the long-running probe, told one of the officers to start “tagging,” or logging into evidence, some of the money that the officer was stealing, because effecting narcotics arrests without logging money into evidence would otherwise raise questions.

Another three witnesses claim that a sergeant allegedly stole money from a safe, and passed a portion of that money to two of the witnesses.

In another controversial incident that took place earlier this month, a five-hour-long standoff between Paterson police and a well-known anti-violence worker in the city — that ended with officers fatally shooting him in his brother’s apartment — began with sobbing pleas from the man’s mother to end the ordeal.

Details released by the New Jersey attorney general’s office a couple of weeks ago, including hours of body-camera footage from seven officers as well as seven 911 recordings, provide the most comprehensive account yet of the March 3 standoff that ended with the death of Najee Seabrooks.

Seabrooks, 31, was a crisis intervention worker and mentor with the nonprofit Paterson Healing Collective and died soon after police shot him when he emerged with a knife from the apartment bathroom where he was holed up, according to the attorney general’s office.

Long accustomed to helping others in the mid-sized city 20 miles northwest of New York, Seabrooks’ co-workers have been shattered by his death and say authorities prevented them from using their mental-health expertise to deescalate the situation.

It’s also led to the state attorney general’s office investigating the shooting, as required under state law, as well as a public outcry for a Justice Department investigation into the city’s police department.

"We won’t be happy until we see changes that the AG spoke on. How can we be happy? We’re still mourning the death of Najee Seabrooks," Stacey Remberg, Seabrooks cousin, said following the state's takeover of the Paterson Police Department.

The attorney general’s office has faced criticism for its alleged mishandling of a past take-over of the Clark Police Department - where that town's mayor and some police leaders were accused of discrimination and making racist statements.  The state's attorney general's office has been sued for alleged retaliation against a whistleblower in that matter.

The attorney general said in Monday's press conference that overall change is coming to the Paterson Police Department with new leadership being appointed and new policy for dealing with mental health calls -- a program with the name “Arrive Together.”

"'Arrive Together' pairs plainclothes officer trained in mental health intervention with a screener in an unmarked vehicle to respond to 911 calls related to mental health or behavioral health crises," Platkin said.

Mayor Andre Sayegh responded to Platkin's announcement, saying in a statement: “When I spoke to the Attorney General, he assured me his office, the State Police, the Governor and Legislature will provide financial and additional  resources to our Department. I previously welcomed the Attorney General’s Office through the County Prosecutor over a year ago to assist with our Internal Affairs process.

"Given that resources were promised by the Attorney General, we look forward to working with the Attorney General’s Office once again. Moreover, we are eager to review the Attorney General's plan and timeline, as well as to share and build upon the reforms that we have already implemented. We will do everything we can to continue to improve our Police Department for the residents of Paterson.” 

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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