Like its roughly 150,000 citizens, the majority of Paterson’s 400 police officers, who have sworn to serve and guard the “Silk City,” are Black or brown.
In a city where at least 12 police officers have been charged criminally for misbehavior in the past four years and where officials have paid $2 million to resolve 16 civil rights complaints brought against police in the previous three, citizens and community activists claim that the gap is growing.
Bonnie Gonzalez, a resident of Paterson, New Jersey, said recently while shopping in a nearby beauty supply store, “It’s this way because [Paterson officers] are criminals themselves.” “How can you concentrate on resolving the issue if you are the issue?
Jameel Lowery, a citizen of Paterson, died on January 11, 2019, and on Friday, January 11, protesters gathered at City Hall to demand justice. Two days after seeking assistance from the Paterson Police Department while under the influence of drugs, Lowery, 27, passed away at a hospital. His family has always alleged that the police brutalized him.
Criminal justice professionals have long urged departments to select officers who reflect the communities they serve, arguing that these individuals can better relate to locals, comprehend cultural norms, and contribute a vital perspective to enforcement. Residents of Paterson, meanwhile, claim that the officers’ race and ethnicity are irrelevant.
In 2019, Monique James-Lowery, 42, whose nephew Jameek Lowery passed away two days after requesting assistance from Paterson police, said, “We are living in hell.” The police officers in this area are only concerned with the color blue.
Requests for a response from Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, Police Director Jerry Speziale, and the nine city council members went unanswered. However, experts claim that successful policing of vulnerable groups requires more than just recruiting diverse police.
Henry Smart III, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said: “It’s one step to a two-prong answer.” “Two, it’s the representation’s quality. Just having quotas is not representation.
Former Long Branch police officer and director of Seton Hall University’s executive leadership school for law enforcement, Thomas Shea, concurred. It truly depends on your officers’ qualifications and, more crucially, the ethos of your police force, according to Shea.
U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden, who recently presided over a prominent Paterson police corruption case, didn’t miss that. One of the six police officers found guilty in the investigation was sentenced, and the judge made the assertion that the iHop restaurant’s culture is “1,000% better than anything in the Paterson police department.”
Thelonious McKnight, who was slain on December 29 while evading police, has drawn criticism for contentious fatal shootings by police that have sparked community outcry and calls for reform. This year, tensions erupted over the arrest and subsequent abandonment of 41-year-old Felix DeJesus in a park at night in near-freezing temperatures on February 2 as well as the police beating of a teen during a Back-to-School block party.
Hayden sentenced four former officers — Eudy Ramos, Jonathan Bustios, Frank Toledo, and Daniel Pent — and their former sergeant, Michael Cheff, to federal prison in the fall for unlawfully stopping and searching people of color between 2016 and 2018, taking their money, and fabricating police reports. Matthew Torres, a sixth officer, was placed on probation.
Everything We Do is Illegal
The court case gave an insight into the department’s culture. According to an ex-officer, the robbery squad lied or omitted information in about 75% of the police reports it filed after drug arrests. In a 2017 text conversation to Bustios, Toledo, 33, stated, “Everything we do is unlawful.”
Bustos, 33, told the court at his September sentence hearing that he “didn’t feel like we were doing anything unlawful.” He remarked, “There was a narrow blue line of quiet.” “That was how the department operated.”
Toledo claimed that the department’s toxic culture affected him and that it “did not support or value” its officers during his sentencing. He recognized that he was a factor in Paterson residents’ lack of confidence in the police.
“I did things that furthered the gap and made people lose more trust in police during the time of great tension between law enforcement and society, and for that, I’m sorry,” he said.
Torres, another of the policemen found guilty, envisioned himself becoming a police commander when he was younger. When he joined the Paterson police force in 2014, he could not have been “more excited…to protect and serve the community,” according to his attorney.
However, 33-year-old Torres claimed that the agency didn’t give resources or additional training to cops who wanted to do the right thing. He was operating with the “robbery squad” by his second year on the job. He was suspended when he eventually tried to make the wrongdoing public.
“He was lured into a specific culture that seemed to be present there. The culture was not created by him, according to John Whipple, Torres’ lawyer. “But he took part in it. reluctantly at first, then more firmly.
Torres was placed on probation for three years. He said that through “throwing light on the corruption in Paterson,” he had finally found peace. He declared, “It had to happen, and it ought to have happened a long time ago.”
Culture Molding Cop Behavior
According to the concept of representative bureaucracy, organizations should demographically resemble the populations they serve. Additionally, police forces in significant cities like Baltimore and Los Angeles have embraced the idea and varied their personnel. However, much as in Paterson practices of corruption have fostered a climate of intense mistrust among the neighborhoods they serve.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, Paterson has 50% Hispanic officers, 38% White officers, and 12% Black officers. Around 61% of the population of the city is Hispanic, 25% is Black, and 8% is white.
However, Cameron McLay, a former police chief of Pittsburgh, claimed that a prospective officer’s history and disposition are “pretty weak indicators of how they will actually behave.”
The officer will be “more significantly shaped by the culture of the department, and they will start to become thinking, feeling members of that organisational culture,” he said.
McLay, who is affiliated with the California-based Center for Policing Equity, noted that marginalised communities have frequently been criminalised and overpoliced.
According to the author, “When the systems that are in place force police to act in burdensome ways for Black and brown communities, these officers will behave in ways that still cause those harms, even if it doesn’t align with their personal value systems, either because the job itself requires it… or it’s just a matter of one becoming socialised into that organisation group.”
The concerns are systemic and institutional, according to Michael Mitchell, a professor of criminology and African American studies at The College of New Jersey.
Former Texas police officer Mitchell claimed that the Paterson police department belongs to a racist and classist organisation. As a former police officer, I can say that their training is highly aggressive.
“Honest Dialogue is the key,”
Residents of Paterson claim that police are underperforming and fail to appreciate the beauty of the city.
Service provider and lifelong resident of Paterson Carol Jones claimed, “The officers don’t love our community.” “Perhaps things would be different if they were more hands-on and didn’t approach us in a menacing manner.”
According to community leaders, the police department and the community will work together to improve relations.
The Rev. Kenneth Clayton, head of the NAACP chapter in Paterson, said that the goal was to have an open discourse.
Nothing will be resolved if there is a separation between the two parties, he continued. “We are interdependent.”