Amid Pandemic And Nationwide Unrest, Paterson Police Applicants Are Turning Down Jobs

PATERSON, NJ — More than half the applicants offered jobs in the Paterson police department this month declined the positions and officials attributed the unusually high rejection rate to the public outrage over George Floyd’s death and fears about COVID-19.

About 60 men and women who had taken the police test last November and achieved the highest scores attended a city hiring orientation session on June 1 and were subsequently offered jobs, said the city’s public safety director, Jerry Speziale.

But only about 25 of those applicants ended up accepting the jobs, Speziale said. Normally, he said, only a small percentage of applicants at the top of new hiring list turn down job offers.

“It’s the climate we’re in,” Speziale said. “These were great candidates. A lot of them were veterans. They got 99s on the test. They were in great physical condition.”

Mayor Andre Sayegh said he believes the applicants’ rejections stemmed from factors affecting law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

“It could be a confluence of factors because the current climate can be construed as not being conducive to pursuing a career in policing,” the mayor said. “The pandemic and racial strife may possibly dissuade applicants from accepting offers for employment, not only in Paterson but anywhere in America at this juncture.”

As a result of the high number of rejections, Paterson will fall short of its goal of sending 39 trainees to the police academy class that begins in July, Speziale said. With 39 recruits, Paterson would have reached the full number of 418 officers set by the city police department’s table of organization, the director said.

Speziale said the city would invite the next 75 applicants on the police hiring list to another orientation on Aug. 10 in an effort to fill the rest of the openings in the department. But the next wave may have to wait until January to begin their training, officials said.

Speziale disclosed the high rejection rate during Tuesday night’s city council meeting in his response to complaints about police response times to calls from the public.

Zellie Thomas, one of the leaders of the Paterson Black Lives Matter group, welcomed the news that so many would-be Paterson cops turned down the jobs.

“We don’t want more police officers, we want less police officers,” Thomas said, adding that money used for law enforcement salaries should be reallocated for recreation programs and social services.

Thomas said the increased scrutiny of cops after Floyd’s police-custody death may discourage people who would be attracted to the power that comes with a badge from taking such jobs.

But the president of one of Paterson’s police unions said highly-qualified law enforcement applicants may seek other careers because of what he described as mistreatment of cops during the past several weeks.Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.

“It’s not a job people are looking to take nowadays,” said Mason Maher, the head of the Superior Officers Association. “The hardworking who want to do good for their city don’t want to have to take the blame for the actions of one bad apple.”

From The Paterson Press