‘We are living in hell.’ N.J. city’s toxic cop culture ignites residents’ fury
36 mins ago
November 29, 2022
In Paterson, most of the 400 police officers sworn to serve and protect the “Silk City” are Black or brown, like its nearly 150,000 residents.
Still, fear and distrust of the police run deep.
And residents and community activists say that gap is widening in a city where at least 12 cops have been criminally charged for misconduct in four years, and officials have paid $2 million to settle 16 civil rights lawsuits filed against police in the last three.
“It’s this way because [Paterson officers] are criminals themselves,” said resident Bonnie Gonzalez, 27, as she shopped recently in a local beauty store. “How can you focus on fixing the problem when you are the issue?
Criminal justice experts have long urged departments to hire officers who mirror the communities they serve, saying they can better relate to residents, understand cultural norms and bring an essential perspective to policing. But Paterson residents say officers’ race and ethnicity mean little.
Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, police director Jerry Speziale and the nine city council members did not respond to requests for comment.
But experts say hiring diverse officers is only part of the answer to better policing marginalized communities.
“It’s one step to a two-prong solution,” said Henry Smart III, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Two, it is the quality of the representation. Representation is not just quotas.”
Thomas Shea, a former Long Branch cop and director of Seton Hall University’s law enforcement executive leadership program, agreed.
“It really depends on the quality of your officers and, more importantly, the culture of your police department,” Shea said.
That wasn’t missed by U.S. District Judge Katharine Hayden, who recently oversaw a high-profile Paterson police corruption case. In sentencing one of six cops convicted in the probe, she hypothesized that the culture of an iHop restaurant, where he had found work, is “1,000% better than anything in the Paterson police department.”
To date, police have come under scrutiny for controversial fatal shootings of residents like Thelonious McKnight who was killed Dec. 29 while fleeing police, igniting community outrage and demands for reform. Tensions flared this year over the police beating of a teen during a Back-to-School block party and an encounter with 41-year-old Felix DeJesus, who went missing on Feb. 2 after officers detained him and then left him in a park at night in near-freezing temperatures.
In the fall, four former officers — Eudy Ramos, Jonathan Bustios, Frank Toledo and Daniel Pent — and their ex-sergeant Michael Cheff were sentenced to federal prison by Hayden for illegally stopping and searching people of color, stealing their cash and falsifying police reports between 2016 and 2018. A sixth officer, Matthew Torres, received probation.
‘Everything we do is illegal’
Their court proceedings offered a window into the department’s culture.
One ex-officer estimated the group, known as the robbery squad, lied or omitted information in approximately 75% of its police reports for drug arrests.
“Everything we do is illegal,” Toledo, 33, wrote in a text message to Bustios in 2017.
At his September sentencing, Bustios, 33, told the court that it “didn’t feel like we were doing anything wrong.”
“There was a thin blue line of silence,” he said. “That was the way of the department.”
At his sentencing, Toledo said the department “did not support or value” its officers and that its negative culture influenced him. He acknowledged he was a reason people in Paterson didn’t trust the police.
“During the time of great tension between law enforcement and society, I did things that furthered that gap and made people lose more trust in police, and for that, I’m sorry,” he said.
Torres, another of the convicted officers, dreamt as a child of becoming a police chief. He could not have been “more excited…to protect and serve the community” when he joined Paterson’s police department in 2014, his attorney said.
But Torres, 33, said the department didn’t provide resources or additional training for officers who wanted to do good. And by his second year on the job, he was running with the “robbery squad.”
When he eventually tried to expose the wrongdoing, he was suspended.
“He was drawn into a particular culture that apparently was in existence there. He didn’t create the culture,“ said John Whipple, Torres’ attorney. “But he participated in it. First, reluctantly and then more affirmatively.”
Torres received three years of probation. He told the judge he was finally at peace for “shedding a light on the corruption in Paterson.”
“It needed to happen, and it should have happened a long time ago,” he said.
Culture molding cop behavior
Representative bureaucracy is the idea that institutions should demographically reflect the communities they serve. And police departments in major cities like Baltimore and Los Angeles have bought in and diversified their ranks. Still, like in Paterson, cultures of corruption have led to deep mistrust within the communities they patrol.
In Paterson, 50% of the officers are Hispanic, 38% white and 12% Black, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The city’s racial makeup is around 61% Hispanic, 25% Black and 8% white.
But former Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay said prospective officers’ backgrounds and attitudes are “pretty weak indicators of how they will actually behave.”
“The culture of the department will have the greatest impact in molding the officer, and they will begin to become thinking, feeling members of that organizational culture,” he said.
McLay, who works with the Center for Policing Equity, a California think tank, noted that policing has often criminalized and over-policed marginalized communities.
“When the systems that are in place cause police to act in burdensome ways for Black and brown communities, these officers, even if it doesn’t align with their personal value systems, are going to behave in manners that still cause those harms, either because the job itself requires it … or simply a matter of one becoming socialized into that organization group,” said.
Michael Mitchell, a professor of criminology and African American studies at The College of New Jersey, said, “the issues are structural and institutional.”
“The Paterson police officers are a part of an institution that is racist and classist,” said Mitchell, a former police officer in Texas. “Speaking as an ex-police officer, they are trained in a very aggressive way.”
‘Honest dialogue is the key’
Paterson residents saycops don’t see the city’s beauty and aren’t doing the best job.
“The officers don’t love this community,” said Carol Jones, a service worker and lifelong Paterson resident. “If they were more hands-on and didn’t approach us in a threatening manner, maybe things would be different.”
Community leaders said improving relations will involve ajoint effort between the community and the police department.
“Honest dialogue and open communication is the key,” said the Rev. Kenneth Clayton, president of the Paterson chapter of the NAACP.
“If both sides have a disconnect and point the blame at each other, nothing is going to be solved,” he added. “We need each other.”
Staff writer Joe Atmonavage contributed to this report.
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Madras High Court shocked to learn about corruption cases pending trial since 1983
2 hours ago
November 29, 2022
Shocked to learn that 1,635 corruption cases booked between 1983 and 2021 are pending trial in just 14 districts under the north range of the Directorate of Vigilance and Anti Corruption (DVAC), the Madras High Court has said the trial courts as well as the police must work together to ensure a speedy trial in such cases than indulge in a blame game.
Justice S.M. Subramaniam wrote, “If corruption cases are kept pending for years together, then, there is no possibility of controlling corrupt practices among public servants. The offenders will get an encouragement that they can escape from the clutches of law. Practical and pragmatic approach is required for the purpose of solving the problem.”
Taking note of a complaint made by the DVAC that the trial proceedings were not being conducted on a day-to-day basis because of which the agency find it difficult to produce the witnesses, the judge said that once the trial commences, it must be concluded at the earliest without any long adjournments.
“There is a current trend in the courts where parties seek adjournments for forum hunting, for harassing the other parties and to achieve their goals in an indirect manner. At the outset, various trickery methods are adopted by the parties to get adjournments in order to evade the proceedings or prolong the litigation,” the judge said.
Dealing with a corruption case pending for the last 22 years, he went on to state, “A few legal brains and ill-natured litigants are attempting to adopt such delaying tactics by finding out certain loopholes in the judicial system. Such ideas or intention of the parties, at no circumstances, be encouraged by the courts.”
The data obtained by the judge from the Superintendent of Police, DVAC (north range), revealed that 1,153 corruption cases booked between 2011 and 2021; 421 cases booked between 2001 and 2010; 54 between 1991 and 2000; and seven registered between 1983 and 1990 were still pending trial.
The number of such cases were more even in Chennai (128), Coimbatore (80), Salem (83), Tiruchi (112) and Madurai (56), which had special courts to deal with cases booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. The judge termed such a delay in completing trial in corruption cases as extremely unfortunate. “If trial is allowed to go on in this manner in corruption cases, this court is afraid that all these cases will end in vain without any fruitful results. The very purpose and object of the Prevention of Corruption Act will be defeated,” he said, underscoring the need for the DVAC as well as the trial court to ensure a speedy trial.