Isa M. Abbassi, the former New York City Police Department Chief of Strategic Initiatives, was officially handed the reins to the embattled Paterson Police Department, tasked with rebuilding the trust between residents and those that are sworn to protect them.
Abbassi was appointed Officer in Charge by New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin after his office took over the Paterson Police Department earlier this year, assuming police leadership functions in the city with New Jersey State Troopers.
“There is a need to reimagine public safety in the city of Paterson. We must accomplish this together, in partnership, with those we serve,” Abbassi stated in a press announcement at Passaic County Community College on May 8.
Abbassi recently retired from his 26-year career with the NYPD where he was most recently Chief of Strategic Initiatives. While in the role, he oversaw policy changes for the department and served as the primary advisor to the Police Commissioner on short-term and long-term strategic goals.
Platkin called him “an innovator and an experienced communicator” who was chosen for his experience in New York enacting reform and repairing frayed relations in a community that distrusts its police force, most notably in the death of Eric Garner.
Platkin took the highly unusual step but not unprecedented move of taking over the department on March 27 after a series of high profile incidents in the last year have cast doubt on the PPD. The breaking point was the death of Najee Seabrooks, a local violence intervention worker and activist who barricaded himself inside his home during an apparent mental health crisis. Seabrooks was shot by Paterson police following a five-hour standoff.
“He is uniquely qualified to reform policing in Paterson and create a public safety system that protects and serves all members of the community,” said Platkin.
Notable by their absences at the announcement were Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh and his Public Safety Director, Jerry Speziale.
Abbassi announced that he is implementing several immediate initiatives to improve public safety as well as the relationship between police and the community, the biggest being a strategic vision for the police department called PPD NEXTGEN.
Tenets of PPD NEXTGEN include community policing by working to develop a holistic and community-led approach to problem solving; evaluate innovation, technology and strategies currently used by the department; and revamp recruitment, training, and improve employee well-being.
“Every resident and visitor to this…city must know that their police department is trained, equipped, and supervised in a way that provides the professional, constitutionally focused police services the City of Paterson demands,” said Abbassi.
A key part of the new communication will be a new website for the Paterson Police Department to allow for greater transparency by showcasing new plans and initiatives for the department as well as authorities vison for the department.
Abbassi offered that the website would be more user friendly for community members to access information, recognize exemplary police services, or file a civilian complaint or internal affairs referral form, both of which will be offered in 12 languages. Additionally, all social media will be posted under the handle @PatersonPD on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to allow for better communication with the community.
Abbassi is set for listening sessions in each of the City’s six wards starting May 15.
“This department will be committed to rebuilding public trust and restoring order in the community while maintaining a focus on customer service and achieving excellence through innovation,” said Abbassi. “Policing can no longer be viewed as a monopoly, where you take the services we provide with no alternative option. We are a service provider and we must provide that service in a way our customer expects.”
No Quick Fix
But both men declined to commit to a time frame or what metrics they are using for success.
“There’s not going to be a ‘mission accomplished’ banner in six weeks or six months,” Platkin said.
Abbassi added, “this is a challenge that will be difficult and will take time…this will not happen overnight, but I am confident that as we embark on this journey toward the next generation of public safety in the City of Paterson, the women and men of the PPD will rise to the challenge.”