Mayor Andre Sayegh marked the one-year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd by issuing an executive order that calls for better de-escalation training and use of force records as a factor in police promotions.
Sayegh’s executive order establishes a 7-member “De-Escalation Task Force” that will make “evidence-based” policy recommendations to the mayor and public safety director to “help foster a ‘guardian’ culture in the Paterson Police Department.” His order also states “excessive use of force record and de-escalation performance” will be considered when promoting police officers.
“The most lasting way to honor the memory of George Floyd is to work to make continuous improvements in our police department to ensure that our officers are effectively trained in how to safely de-escalate situations and only use force as a last resort,” said Sayegh. “Today’s executive order advances this goal by putting de-escalation practices at the center of policing in Paterson.”
Sayegh will appoint the seven members, including two aged 18 to 20 and one aged 21 to 30 years.
“We are always in favor of anything that helps our men and women do their job better. Any training that our men and women get is always a positive, training is a fundamental part of any career,” said Mason Maher, president of the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), Local 1, Superior Officers. “I have to honestly reserve comment on the promotional aspect. I don’t know how that’s going to come into play here.”
Maher pointed out promotions are handled through the New Jersey Civil Service Commission laws and regulations. Police officers take exams to qualify for promotions.
“Our members have to, first and foremost, protect themselves. Use of force is, unfortunately, a necessary part of the job that is not brought on by the officer,” said Maher.
Sayegh’s executive order is based on policies proposed by the Citizens Campaign and the Paterson Civic Trust. Both groups developed their recommendations after consultation with experts with extensive experience in law enforcement.
“I commend Mayor Sayegh for taking proactive leadership and issuing this executive order establishing The De-escalation Task Force and ensuring that use of force records are considered in promotion decisions,” said Harry Pozycki, founder of the Citizens Campaign. “This will ensure a continuing emphasis on improving the Police Department’s de-escalation policies and practices and put Paterson’s Police Department at the forefront of modern policing.”
“This will result in giving the residents of Paterson the ability to make evidence-based recommendations for continuing improvements that will help both our residents and police officers. The 7 member De-Escalation Task Force which includes 3 members ranging in age from 18 to 30 will help to promote more comprehensive communication between the police and the community. This will result in a positive impact on our city’s public safety,” said David Lowe, a member of the Paterson Civic Trust.
Sayegh’s executive order does little to bring sweeping changes needed in the Paterson police force, said Zellie Thomas, a leader of the Black Lives Matter in Paterson. Ten police officers have been charged with violating people’s civil rights over the past two years, highlighting the need for reform within the force.
“It really misses what the issue is. The issue isn’t whether or not police have or don’t have enough de-escalation training. They do have enough training; they get trained already. And we’ve seen in the Capitol riot that police officers have tremendous restraint. The issue is about who they have restraint for and who they chose to inflict violence and harm on – who they chose to target with their misconduct,” said Thomas.
Thomas found using use of force records as a factor in promotions to be somewhat backward.
“I don’t think that will stick,” said Thomas. “The discipline shouldn’t be if you use a lot of use of force you’re not going to get promoted, it should be if you use a lot of use of force you shouldn’t be working here at all.”
Thomas said a lot of excessive force complaints are not sustained by police Internal Affairs. He also noted some police units, such as the narcotics unit, could argue the nature of their work requires them to use a lot of force.
Thomas said many police officers also do not seek promotion to higher ranks, rendering the mayor’s policy ineffective in deterring use of force.
“So, this executive order doesn’t mean much to those officers,” said Thomas.
Thomas led a massive protest in Paterson last year just after video surfaced showing the agony Floyd suffered that led to his death. Floyd’s killer, Derek Chauvin, was later convicted of murder.
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