🚓 The former Paterson police chief wants the city to retake local control

🚓 State officials put their own man in charge back in late March

🚓 Paterson has seen much less violence since the takeover

PATERSON — The former head of this city's police department is trying to wrestle back local control after a state takeover earlier this year.

Ousted police chief Engelbert Ribeiro was at the helm for just 24 days before the Attorney General's Office announced he would be replaced by new leadership in late March. Then in May, he was moved to a new OAG job and kept his $225,000 annual salary, the Paterson Press reported.

But now Ribeiro wants his old job back. He and Mirza Bulur, who works as an aide to Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale, filed a lawsuit in Passaic County Superior Court on Friday.

Is the state takeover of the Paterson police legal?

The lawsuit claims that the state overstepped its authority in completely taking over the police department and that the move was in violation of state law.

Ousted police chief Engelbert Ribeiro with Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh in March 2023. (Andre Sayegh via Facebook)
Ousted police chief Engelbert Ribeiro with Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh in March 2023. (Andre Sayegh via Facebook)

But a statement from an OAG spokesperson said the lawsuit is "as unfortunate as it is meritless."

"The Attorney General’s authority to supersede local law enforcement agencies is well established. And given the history in Paterson, the need to do so was clear," the statement said.

Issues within Paterson police

Paterson was experiencing a "crisis of confidence" in its police force, Attorney General Matthew Platkin said when he announced the takeover in March.

Six city cops were sentenced last year for deprivation of civil rights and falsifying public records, further tarnishing the department's already shaky reputation.

And just weeks before the takeover, police fatally shot a 31-year-old violence intervention activist who authorities said lunged at police with more than one knife while experiencing a mental crisis.

Najee Seabrooks
Najee Seabrooks (Paterson Healing Collective)

The OAG said that the lawsuit puts the interests of two individuals over the needs of Paterson.

"It is just the latest example in a long list of reasons that these specific individuals, and the administration that supports them, were — and remain — unfit to run the Paterson Police Department."

Paterson sees drop in major crimes

The lawsuit comes as New Jersey's third-largest city is experiencing a major drop in murders, shootings, and other crimes under the leadership of Officer in Charge Isa Abbasi. The former New York City police officer was appointed by Platkin in early May to lead the department.

Isa Abbassi speaks next to AG Matthew Platkin May 2023 (NJ Spotlight News)
Isa Abbassi speaks next to AG Matthew Platkin May 2023 (NJ Spotlight News)

Paterson saw a 41% decrease in shootings and a 60% decrease in murders in the summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day in 2023 compared to the same time period in 2022, the Attorney General's Office announced last month.

Does the Paterson mayor want local control?

Mayor Andre Sayegh appointed Ribeiro in early March. Sayegh said he was an "interested party" to whether the state had legal authority to supersede local leadership, NJ.com reported.

The mayor did not explicitly say if he wanted Ribeiro to return. However, he said that Ribeiro was making "drastic changes" to the department but didn't have enough time to implement them.

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