PATERSON — The mayor on Thursday announced he picked as chairman of his police de-escalation task force retired Lt. Dalton Price, who worked on the FBI probe that produced convictions of seven Paterson law enforcement officers.
Price had been a Paterson police officer for 25 years, serving in the gang unit and community policing division before joining Internal Affairs, where he worked on the federal investigation that uncovered shakedowns, assaults and drug dealings by rogue cops.
“We’ve come to the crossroads where the police have to listen to the community,” said Price during a City Hall press conference. “I want people who are from the community and understand the community,” added Price. “This is not about understanding the police.”
Price, who now works as the Paterson school district’s security director, said he expected the task force’s first public meeting would be held in January.
Mayor Andre Sayegh revealed his appointments to the newly-created task force just a week after Paterson Press reported that the positions had remained empty for the past six months. The mayor on Thursday said the de-escalation panel represented part of his ongoing effort to build trust between the city’s police officers and its residents.
Paterson Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale said the group would make recommendations for policies and practices designed to defuse potential problems between cops and citizens, through such methods as improved communication. Price said police need to find non-physical ways to resolve disputes.
“If the only tool I have is a hammer, then every situation is a nail,” Price said.
Sayegh has partnered on the de-escalation task force with The Citizens Campaign, a nonprofit group based in Metuchen that founded and owns Paterson Press.
Carole Dortch-Wright of the Citizens Campaign said the new task force would not focus on placing blame for problems that have arisen, but instead seek out solutions.
“We’re very excited to be part of this,” she said.
The mayor also appointed to the panel Taleb Abdul Rahman, a South Paterson resident who wants to become a police officer; Marqweesha Guthrie, a social justice activist who serves on the board of Community Charter School of Paterson; Raquel Amador, an outspoken community activist; Dalwin Jeremi, a student; JoAnn Riviello, principal of Paterson’s School 21; and Julie Pagan, a health care worker who the mayor said volunteered for the committee after reading the news story last week about the openings.
Amador said she filed an Internal Affairs complaint against a Passaic County Sheriff’s Officer several years ago for running over her foot during a dispute. She said the officer was overly aggressive in handling a motor vehicle situation. Amador said the sheriff’s IA investigators seemed more concerned whether she planned to file a lawsuit against the department than they were about finding out whether the officer acted inappropriately.
Amador said she expected the new task force would be fair, but aggressive.
“That’s how we want it, raw,” she said.
Zellie Thomas, leader of Paterson’s Black Lives Matter group, has expressed frustrations over what he described as the slow progress of Sayegh’s promised reforms.
“We already know the police department as a whole isn’t trained and certified in crisis intervention,” Thomas asserted. “We already know it isn’t practice for each use of force incident to be investigated.
“There is much to be done,” Thomas added, “and Black Lives Matter looks forward to sending our research- based recommendations to the task force so the community doesn’t have to wait a year for lifesaving policies to be implemented.”
Joe Malinconico is editor of Paterson Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Paterson NJ: Retired police officer to lead de-escalation panel