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NJ Attorney General Takes Over Troubled Paterson Police Agency

Three weeks after a deadly police shooting in Paterson, N.J., the state Attorney General Matthew Platkin announced that his office would take over the day-to-day operations of the city’s troubled police department. The state oversight in New Jersey’s third-largest city comes after civil rights activists asked the U.S. Justice Department to begin an investigation into “unlawful and unconstitutional conduct” in the department. Beginning in May, Isa Abbassi, a chief with the New York Police Department who held leadership positions after of the police killing of Eric Garner on Staten Island, will take control of the department, reports the New York Times. “There is a crisis of confidence in law enforcement in this city,” Platkin said. “Under these circumstances," he said it was his "duty to protect the people of Paterson and to keep officers safe who are sworn to protect them.”

Several instances of questionable police activity occurred the oversight announcement. Last month, a police officer was charged with aggravated assault and official misconduct after shooting a man in the back while responding to sounds of gunfire. The shooting left Khalif Cooper paralyzed in 2021. In another case, Thelonious McKnight Jr. was shot and killed by a police officer; a gun was found near McKnight, according to the attorney general’s office, but activists questioned whether he was armed. In the past several years, six Paterson officers have been convicted of stealing cash and other items from residents who were searched in violation of federal civil rights laws. The New Jersey Violence Intervention and Prevention Coalition, which includes the Healing Collective, called the state’s action a crucial “first step toward justice.” The group stressed the need for a criminal justice approach that included trained community members and that de-emphasized armed officers in full tactical gear. Platkin said that the state’s use of force policy would also be updated to provide guidance on how law enforcement officials should handle crises involving people barricaded alone behind locked doors. Arrive Together, a program that sends mental health professionals with officers when they respond to calls from people in emotional distress, will be expanded to Paterson, he said.

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