Police officers in Paterson, N.J., have robbed, beaten, shot and killed Black men, creating a bad reputation for the department. Yet, one specific occurrence led the New Jersey attorney general to take over the department, the New York Times reports. Najee Seabrooks had worked for years to reverse a spike in shootings in Paterson by building friendships with gunshot victims and persuading them not to retaliate against their attackers. In March, Seabrooks, 31, had barricaded himself in a bathroom. The police arrived in riot gear and trained their guns on the bathroom door. After a four-hour standoff, Seabrooks emerged with a knife. The police shot and killed him. Three weeks later, Matthew Platkin, New Jersey’s attorney general, took direct control of the police department. No other state gives its attorney general the power to take control of a local police department, said James Tierney, a former attorney general of Maine. It is only the second time that a New Jersey attorney general has exercised that power, and it is the first takeover precipitated by accusations of civil rights abuses.
Between 2018 and 2020, Paterson's Black residents, who make up about a quarter of the population, were the subject of 57 percent of the police department’s 600-plus uses of force, according to an investigation last year by the Police Executive Research Forum. A police officer in Paterson was found guilty of dealing drugs from a police cruiser while in uniform. Other officers created a “robbery squad” to beat and rob people. The police have shot five people since 2019, killing four, and two more residents have died in police custody, giving Paterson the highest number of police-involved deaths of any department in New Jersey, the news organization NJ Spotlight found in March.