(The Center Square) — New Jersey’s Attorney General has taken over a police department in the state’s third-largest city amid allegations of police brutality and other problems.
Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced on Monday the Patterson Police Department is now under the control of his office, which will take over control of all police functions, including internal affairs investigations, effective immediately.
"People throughout Paterson deserve a public safety system that protects and serves all members of its community," Platkin said in a statement. "Something has to change, and it will change starting now."
In 2014, Abbassi was tapped by the NYPD to improve police and community relations on Staten Island in the wake of the death in police custody of Eric Garner.
Platkin called him "an experienced, proven leader who has built community trust and achieved excellence through his innovation at the highest levels of law enforcement in this country."
Gov. Phil Murphy welcomed the move, saying it will "ensure needed reform and give police officers in Paterson the resources, support, and training they need to effectively build trust and serve their community."
"It has unfortunately become clear that there is a deep lack of trust between the police and the community they serve," Murphy said in a statement. "This not only harms public safety, but it also makes it more difficult and dangerous for law enforcement officers to do their jobs."
Nearly a dozen officers from the police department have been charged with corruption in recent years as part of an FBI probe into a group known as the "robbery squad" who have been accused of shaking down criminal suspects for money.
The AG's move also follows the March 3 officer-involved shooting of Najee Seabrooks, a 31-year-old anti-violence activist, who authorities say called for help as he tried to commit suicide but threatened officers who arrived on the scene. He was shot and killed by police in a standoff.
The AG said he is also requiring the city's police department to implement the ARRIVE Together program, which trains officers to deal with situations involving people in mental health crises and pairs officers with mental health professionals.
Platkin said he also plans to revise the statewide use of force policy to include new protocols for officers dealing with individuals who are barricaded.
"Situations involving people who are barricaded within a room or other confined space pose significant challenges and risks for all involved – civilians and officers alike – and such situations may arise for any number of reasons," the AG's office said in a brief explaining the changes.
Murphy, who also supports updating the use of force guidelines, said it will mean "a sea change in emergency response to individuals facing mental health crises and will decrease the danger to everyone involved."
Platkin acknowledged the takeover won't "immediately restore public confidence" in the troubled police department or "address the concerns of officers asked to do a hard and dangerous job."
"This announcement will not quell the strife in the City of Paterson overnight," he said. "Rather, the actions taken by my office represent a pledge to the residents and officers of Paterson that the state of New Jersey is committed to the safety and success of the entire Paterson community."