Loud music, unsanctioned block parties, and fireworks marked a wild weekend in Paterson that has prompted at least one City Council member to call for a legislative investigation into lack of police response to quality of life problems.
“The police are doing absolutely nothing,” said an upset Paterson resident. Hundreds of people gathered on her block, 17th Avenue, for a large party on Friday night. She and her neighbors called police, but no one responded.
At one point, the woman was told by police dispatch a sergeant purportedly cleared the crowd. She said it wasn’t true. She called police and was insulted by Operator 13 and her phone number was blocked from calling the non-emergency police number.
The woman, who declined to provide her name, went to mayor Andre Sayegh’s house, knocked on his door, and told him about the situation. She said police arrived 30 minutes after her visit to the mayor’s house. She was told police were handling a hostage situation elsewhere in the city, she said.
“If I can’t sleep, you can’t either that’s how I looked at it,” said the resident. She said on Sunday from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Monday, a suspect set off fireworks on 17th Avenue, depriving residents of sleep.
Councilman Luis Velez notified police chief Ibrahim “Mike” Baycora about the fireworks at 12 a.m.
Baycora did not respond to a call for comment on Monday morning.
Velez had informed Baycora about Friday’s large block party on Tuesday, three days before it happened, as a flyer was circulating on social media promoting it.
“There was no action taken,” said Velez.
Velez said he had gotten far better responses from former police chief Troy Oswald, who was controversially ousted by Sayegh. His insistence on ensuring residents have some semblance of quality of life has produced a rift with the Sayegh administration. After he sent quality of life complaints, at one point, Baycora threatened to send police to Velez’s house to take the complaint and then send a unit to the trouble spot, he said.
“I never had a chief telling me, ‘I’m going to send cops to your house,’” said Velez.
Other council members have also complained about lack of police response to quality of life problems.
“I’ve put in multiple complaints, and I’m receiving the same complaints from constituents, so I don’t know what to tell you,” said councilman Michael Jackson, chairman of the public safety committee. “The chief has made it clear he’s not taking those direct messages.”
Baycora receives more than $210,000 in pay from taxpayers to address their safety concerns.
“The chief has made it extremely clear he works for the mayor. And he answers to the mayor,” said Jackson.
Sayegh did not respond to a message for comment.
“It appears to be getting a lot worse, not just an incremental increase, a lot worse,” said councilman William McKoy, who has been on the council for 20 years. He said someone set off fireworks on his block. “If you don’t address them early it only perpetuates the problem.”
Councilmen Flavio Rivera and Al Abdelaziz also received complaints about loud music and fireworks during the weekend. Both men worked on creating a quality of life enforcement unit last year to tackle loud music and other problems.
That unit was folded into the Covid-19 enforcement unit.
Public safety director Jerry Speziale said police were responding to calls over the weekend. He said police issued 241 summonses for quality of life issues on Friday and Saturday. He said police were dispatched to 195 quality of life assignments both days.
Speziale said the Father’s Day holiday reduced the quality of life force from 12 units to 4 on Sunday. On Sunday, those four units issued 40 summonses and responded to 96 quality of life assignments. He said they also cleared 9 hotspots.
“I couldn’t get anybody to take the detail because of Father’s Day,” said Speziale. He said police were also flooded with complaints about fireworks. He suggested the city put in place an ordinance that forbids people from igniting fireworks within 75 feet of a structure. He said the ordinance has to have teeth, meaning big penalties for violators.
A 2017 change in New Jersey regulations restricting fireworks allows people to buy and use handheld or ground based sparklers, snakes, glow worms; smoke devices; and trick noisemakers, including party poppers, snappers, and drop pops.
Speziale said the police force has 360 officers, the lowest officer count in years. Early last year, the force had 418 officers, he said, that thinned because of retirements. He said 10 officers were added in June. He is preparing an academy of 25 officers in July, but those officers won’t be prepared for deployment until after the troublesome summer months are over. He said there are limitations on the number of officers that can undergo training at the academy because of Covid-19 regulations.
“We’re doing everything we can with the resources we have,” said Speziale.
Fewer than 30 police officers were covering the city of 150,000 people from 5 p.m. on Sunday to 4 a.m. on Monday, said Velez. He said the city needs to add more officers to this shift to ensure residents can sleep at night.
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A previous version of this story erroneously stated Sayegh told the resident to call 911 on Friday, when she visited him. Report has been revised to remove the error.