New Jersey’s attorney general has announced his office is taking control of the Paterson Police Department.
The move comes nearly three weeks after Najee Seabrooks was shot and killed by officers.
However, the attorney general says the takeover is due to a number incidents involving the department.
Holding signs, Seabrooks’ mother and family members gathered outside Paterson’s Public Safety complex, where New Jersey’s top law enforcement official made the dramatic announcement.
“Effective immediately, my office has assumed control of all law enforcement functions of Paterson Police Department,” Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said.
The announcement came after body-camera footage was released showing police shooting Seabrooks, as he was having a mental health crisis.
The anti-violence activist later died at the hospital.
Platkin said he is appointing Isa Abbassi to lead the Paterson Police Department. He’s a 25-year veteran of the NYPD that Platkin says helped build community relationships after the death of Eric Garner on Staten Island.
“All I want is justice for my son,” said Melissa Carter, Seabrooks’ mother.
Carter says she won’t be satisfied until the officers are held accountable. She was there during the standoff, and says she’s still traumatized.
“I can’t sleep at night. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. It’s just painful, very painful. I won’t wish this on no mother,” Carter said.
Former Paterson Police Chief Bert Ribeiro was sworn in during Seabrooks’ stand-off with police. Platkin said Ribeiro graciously stepped down, and will be replaced on an interim basis by Fred Fife, a major with the state police. Abbassi will take over in May once he officially retires from the NYPD.
“Let me also be clear to all of the great residents of this great city. We will get there and we will not leave until we do,” Platkin said.
“When someone is having a mental health crisis and he’s calling out for people for help, allow those people to come in,” said Nicki Carter, Seabrooks’ cousin.
The attorney general said he will revise the statewide use of force policy to include protocols for people who are barricaded, as well as bring what’s called the “Arrive Together” program to Paterson. That initiative pairs mental health professionals with plainclothes officers to respond to certain mental health calls.
“These are very positive and needed steps for the community in Paterson,” Gov. Phil Murphy said.
Advocates cautiously call the move an encouraging first step.
“This acknowledgement is great, but what does it mean for accountability for the officers on scene?” said William Simpson of the New Jersey Violence Intervention and Prevention Coalition.
“The culture here in the Paterson Police Department has existed for so long, it’s gonna take a while for us to be able to root it out,” said Zellie Thomas of Black Lives Matter Paterson.
In a statement, Mayor Andre Sayegh vowed, “We will do everything we can to continue to improve our police department.”
“What we’re gonna press the attorney general to do is not to invest more in training and other resources for cops to be more militarized, but to reimagine public safety,” Thomas said.
As for the Seabrooks investigation, itself, it could take up to six months. The case still has to be presented to a grand jury.