NJ chief reassigns 66 cops as investigation into 'hit list' continues
Union leaders are considering filing grievances over the reassignments; officials say a flyer posted at police headquarters had nothing to do with the changes
PATERSON, N.J. — In his first month as Paterson’s police chief, Ibrahim “Mike” Baycora shifted work assignments for 66 officers, or about 15 percent of the force, a wave of changes that current and former cops say far exceeds the norm.
Among the officers whom Baycora assigned to new jobs were two captains and a sergeant whose names appeared on a “hit list” flier that someone surreptitiously posted in a locker room, bathrooms and hallways at police headquarters earlier this month.
The flier said those named on the hit list faced “career assassinations” for “perceived loyalty” to former police chief Troy Oswald, who retired effective Feb. 1 after a lengthy battle with Mayor Andre Sayegh. The “hit list” also identified some police department units, including the emergency response team and the traffic division, which ended up undergoing changes in Baycora’s first month as top cop.
Multiple officers said the Paterson’s Internal Affairs division has launched an investigation into the origins of the hit list flier. The city’s law department also has been asked to investigate the situation, officers said. Meanwhile, the police department unions have held discussions with Baycora about whether some of the new job assignments violated the labor contracts and are considering filing grievances, officers said.
Baycora said the job changes were based on seniority and the needs of the police department.
“This was designed to put police officers to work in areas where they would do the most good for the department,” Baycora said.
The chief noted that the changes included an increase in the number of officers assigned to the narcotics division. A copy of a memo on the new job assignments shows that the narcotics unit had a net gain of six additional officers. Meanwhile, the traffic division lost six officers, the memo shows.
‘”We’re looking to put as many officers on the street as possible,” said Public Safety Director Jerry Speziale. “The new chief and his team of deputy chiefs are trying to do what’s best to serve the public.”
Baycora declined to comment about the hit list. Speziale dismissed the significance of the flier. “Whenever there’s change there’s going to be some resistance to change,” Speziale said.
Mason Maher and Alex Cruz, presidents of the two unions representing Paterson police officers, expressed concern about the hit list.
“Obviously anything like that – just the presence of such a note in police headquarters – will not be tolerated,” said Maher, who represents ranking police officers.
City Council President Maritza Davila said she heard about the hit list. “That didn’t come from the chief or the deputy chiefs,” Davila said. “Somebody made that up.”
One of Baycora’s supporters in the department, who spoke on the condition he not be quoted by name, said he believes that whoever circulated the hit list was trying to pre-empt some of the changes that normally occur whenever a new chief takes command.
Under the department’s standard practice, the chief issues a new list of “detail changes” every 28 days, officers said.
Normally, there are fewer than 20 changes made, multiple officers said. That number tends to be higher whenever a new class of recruits graduates from the police training academy, the officers said. But the changes issued by Baycora did not include assignments for any new recruits. Several officers said that a list containing 66 detail changes was unprecedented during their time in the Paterson police department.
Four captains, eight lieutenants, seven sergeants and nine detectives received new assignments. The rest were rank-and-file officers.
In 37 instances, the cops were moved from one unit to another, such as going from the juvenile division to patrol, or from the traffic unit to the major crime investigations bureau. Fifteen members of the patrol division stayed within that group but were transferred to different squads or platoons, which would change the hours or days they worked.
“We have a new chief and he should be able to make these decisions, as long as it’s done correctly,” said Davila, the council president.
Among the changes was the flipping of two captains whose names were on the surreptitious hit list. Capt. Glenn Browning was moved from being in charge of the emergency response team (ERT), a position he had held for almost 19 years, to the patrol division. Capt. George Vasquez was switched from patrol to ERT.
A third officer named on the hit list, Sgt. Antonio Blasucci was moved out the chief’s office. Blasucci had been in charge of assigning Paterson cops to off-duty jobs paid for by private companies, such as providing traffic control during road repairs. Blasucci was transferred into the juvenile division.
Another officer named on the hit list, Lt. Joseph Sportelli, was reassigned in January by Oswald before he retired as chief. Sportelli had worked for more than seven years in the chief’s office — starting back when William Fraher was chief — in an administrative role, processing overtime requisitions and making sure job assignments met union contract requirements, officers said.
Several officers said Sportelli was known for speaking up when chiefs attempted to make job reassignments that would violate provisions of the labor contracts.
Oswald reassigned Sportelli to the crime scene investigations unit, a move that several officers said was designed to protect Sportelli from getting a less desirable assignment once Baycora became chief.