New Jersey attorney general Matthew Platkin assumed control over the scandal-plagued Paterson police force on Monday.
Platkin made the announcement at the Frank X. Graves Public Safety Complex to applause and cheers of “Thank you” on Monday afternoon.
“Due to a number of events and concerns relating to the Paterson Police Department, there is a crisis of confidence in law enforcement in the City of Paterson,” Platkin said during a news conference in front of the police headquarters on Monday afternoon. “People throughout Paterson deserve a public safety system that protects and serves all members of its community, just as the members of the Paterson Police Department deserve adequate resources, support, and innovation from their leadership.”
Platkin said police chief Englebert Ribeiro has been relieved of his duty. He remains with the department. He appointed a team led by Frederick Fife, a major at the New Jersey State Police, to handle operations at the police force. The state-appointed team also includes Jafca Mandziuk of the state police and assistant attorney general Joseph Walsh. They took assumed control of the department this morning.
Fife will serve as the officer in charge at the department.
Mayor Andre Sayegh had appointed Ribeiro as chief last month.
“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,” Sayegh said. “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.”
The takeover comes after the fatal police shooting of 31-year-old Najee Seabrooks, who worked for an anti-violence organization, intensified calls for outside intervention
Seabrooks was hallucinating and barricaded himself in the bathroom of an apartment. He called 911 and sought police assistance because he thought there were people out to kill him. After a lengthy standoff with police, Seabrooks charged at the officers with a knife. He was shot and killed at the scene.
His death sparked protests and calls for police reforms.
Platkin said beginning in May Isa Abbassi, a twenty-five-year veteran of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and its current Chief of Strategic Initiatives, will take over as the officer-in-charge of the Paterson police department.
“Chief Abbassi is 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. I am grateful for his service and I look forward to working with him to ensure public safety in Paterson. I am committed to restoring public confidence in the Paterson Police Department, which includes providing the officers on the force the support, resources, supervision, and training they need to be an exemplary police department,” said Platkin.
Also, the attorney general announced he intends to engage experts to revise the statewide Use of Force Policy to include protocols for barricaded individuals. His team in Paterson will also implement ARRIVE (Alternative Responses to Reduce Instances of Violence & Escalation), a program that is in place in Cumberland, Union, and Atlantic counties, that will pair an officer, trained in crisis intervention, with a mental health screener in an unmarked vehicle to respond to 911 calls for mental or behavioral health crises calls.
Platkin said he is also forming a working group to study and produce recommendations about interactions between law enforcement and community-based violence intervention groups.
Platkin said the state is determined to address the problems at the Paterson police force no matter how long it takes.
“It will not immediately restore public confidence that the police are committed to providing every resident of Paterson with fair, just, and effective public safety. Nor will it address the concerns of officers asked to do a hard and dangerous job in a community that—after years of fiscal challenges and a revolving door of police leadership—has lost faith in its police department, making the jobs of those officers even more difficult,” the attorney general said. “Rather, the actions taken by my office today 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. Exercising control over the police department and bringing in nationally recognized police leadership for the department is the first step of a process towards a safer and more just City of Paterson.”
More than a dozen Paterson police officers were charged with crimes since 2018.