Crime rate plummets in N.J. city after state takeover, installment of new chief

Paterson PD has seen a 57% reduction in murders and a 32% decline in shootings; robbery, rape and aggravated assault numbers are similarly down, officials say

By S.P. Sullivan

PATERSON, N.J. — Six months after a surprise state takeover of the troubled police department in New Jersey’s third-largest city, state authorities say crime is down, public sentiment is improving and new technology is helping hold cops accountable.

Paterson’s police force has been under the microscope since March, when state Attorney General Matthew Platkin citied a “crisis of confidence in law enforcement in this city” and took over the department.

Since then, an ex-NYPD chief installed to turn things around has ordered more officers onto foot patrols, dramatically increasing their presence along the city’s Broadway corridor. The effect has been significant, city officials and residents say.

“Broadway has become a billboard for what change can look like in the city of Paterson,” Issa Abbassi, the officer in charge in Paterson, said during a law enforcement briefing at the city’s public library, which sits along Broadway.

“But it can’t stop there.”

The location was no accident. Platkin said the library had become a dangerous place to some city residents, a hub of drug activity and crime that kept away families.

Since Paterson police doubled down on foot patrols and community policing on Broadway, the attorney general said, “this neighborhood blossomed and the library once again became accessible to the children of Paterson as a safe and welcoming place.”

Crime is down across the city, Abbassi said. Compared to this same time last year, Paterson has seen a 57% reduction in murders and a 32% decline in shootings. Robbery, rape and aggravated assault numbers are similarly down, officials say.

Going forward, the department is launching nighttime walking patrols in five other areas of the city known to have problems similar to those endemic on Broadway.

The officer in charge also outlined a raft of reforms, including a requirement that every cop on the force be trained in and carry “less lethal” weapons including pepper spray and Tasers.

The department has contracted with a technology firm to use artificial intelligence to monitor officers’ body-worn camera footage, which officials say will vastly improve oversight of the large department.

Officials are also moving the department’s internal affairs functions out of police headquarters — a calculated move to make people more comfortable filing reports of excessive force or corruption.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Teddie Martinez, a violence intervention worker in the city, said of the reforms.

“We’ve been asking for community policing. We’ve been asking police to step into that role, to get familiar with the community.”

The reforms come after years of problems, including criminal charges against a dozen officersmillions in legal settlements and fierce criticism of police use of force. Platkin, the attorney general, acknowledged the department still has a long way to go.

“There is much work to be done,” he said. “No ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner here.”

Some critics of the troubled department, particularly longtime city activists, remain skeptical of outside pledges of reform — particularly those that involve more policing.

“Police cannot police themselves,” said Corey Teague, a Paterson activist. “And many times crimes aren’t reported because people are afraid to come to them.”

Teague said any reforms that don’t include the creation of a civilian review board with subpoena power “is a waste of time at this point.”

Platkin said the creation of a civilian review board would require legislative action in Trenton.

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