From the Associated Press
PATERSON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s attorney general said Monday that his office has taken control of the police department in the state’s third-largest city, Paterson, less than a month after officers there fatally shot a well-known crisis intervention worker during a tense standoff.
Attorney General Matt Platkin said in a news release that his office had assumed control of all police functions without delay, including the division that investigates internal police matters. His announcement didn’t mention the shooting of 31-year-old Najee Seabrooks directly, but it reflected activists’ concerns about how the department was being run.
“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. “People throughout Paterson deserve a public safety system that protects and serves all members of its community.”
Isa Abbassi, a 25-year veteran of the New York Police Department currently serving as the chief of strategic initiatives there, will take charge of Paterson’s police department in May, Platkin said. In the meantime, a New Jersey State Police officer will service as the interim head of the department.
It isn’t clear how long the takeover will last. Platkin said the takeover is a first step in making the city safer and more just.
In addition to the takeover, he said he’s implementing a handful of other changes. They include a program that pairs a police officer with a mental health screener in an unmarked vehicle to respond to 911 calls about mental or behavioral health issues.
He also said the state will revamp its protocols statewide for dealing with people who have barricaded themselves in a room or building — as Seabrooks had done for more than five hours before he was killed. Platkin also formed a “working group” to study and make recommendations on interactions between police officers and violence intervention officers.
The standoff started about 8 a.m. March 3 when police were called to Seabrooks’ brother’s apartment where he had been holed up in the bathroom. Seabrooks, who was a crisis intervention worker and mentor with the nonprofit Paterson Healing Collective, had called 911 at least seven times and told dispatchers that people were threatening him and he needed immediate help.
Police arrived soon after and talked to him through the door, offering to get him water and calling him “love” in one instance. But the tension increased when he told police he was armed with a “pocket rocket” gun and a knife.
Police shot Seabrooks when he emerged from the bathroom with a knife, according to the attorney general’s office.
His death shook his co-workers, who were at the scene and texting with him, Seabrooks’ boss at the Paterson Healing Collective Liza Chowdhury said. She said Seabrooks had been texting with colleagues, asking to see them, but that police blocked the co-workers from entering the apartment.
In the weeks since his death, anti-violence advocates organized a vigil calling for a number of reforms, including the creation of a civilian review board. The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice has called on the Justice Department to investigate the city’s police department, and the ACLU of New Jersey said the shooting shows the need to invest in non-law enforcement responses to mental health calls.