PATERSON, NJ — Six months of training at the police academy boiled down to one more lesson for the five new officers that kicked off their careers with the Paterson Police Department on Sunday.

“You are part of the community now, no matter where you are from,” Lt. Sharon Easton told them as they prepared to go out on their first patrol. “Respect the people, you serve them.”

Under an initiative announced by Mayor Andre Sayegh last week the new officers, paired with their more senior counterparts, will spend the next 30 days on foot patrol, learning a part of the job the Department’s Community Policing Division has long excelled at: building relationships with Paterson residents.

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China Farrar, born and raised in Paterson’s 4th Ward, said that she was “excited, anxious, and nervous,” as she set out with her partners for the day, Officers Ruben Gonzalez and Paul Tafuri.

For her, the job is an opportunity to change the neighborhood she grew up in, and still lives in, one where not feeling safe and hearing gunshots went with the territory. “I love Paterson, it’s my home,” she told TAPinto Paterson when asked why she pursued a job in local law enforcement. “I want to protect it. 

For his part, Gonzalez, with nearly a decade as a corrections officer, the job is one he’s long admired. The work he’ll do in his first weeks might not be what he expected when he first entered the police academy, but is something he welcomes.

“I have relatives on the job,” he said. “They all started on foot patrols.”

With almost 21 years of experience, Tafuri has no shortage of stories to share, all intertwined with lessons that he undoubtedly hoped would help Farrar and Gonzalez throughout their careers.

While these included answers to questions regarding the nuts and bolts of being a police officer: how to write a better report, the best way to respond on the radio, the division of the city into sectors, and more, they all went back to ways to keep interactions with the public as positive as possible.

Patrolling another part of Paterson at the same time was 22-year-veteran Ozzie Mendez. Also with two rookies in tow, Officers John Rikowich and Ryan Fitzsimmons, Mendez reflected that all he ever wanted to be was a Paterson Police Officer. His father was a police officer in the Dominican Republic, Mendez said, very involved in the Dominican community Paterson, and his greatest role model.

“I wanted to be like him,” Mendez, who still lives in Paterson, said. 

Starting the second half of their shift, Mendez drove down Broadway, stopping in front of the library where a group had gathered and several individuals could be seen distributing food. Introducing himself, as well as Rikowich and Fitzsimmons, Mendez learned quickly that the effort was set up by Iris Carrero whose daughter Jusstinah, passed away in January 2020 following a seizure.

The three would be introduced also to Makaylah Huffin, 10, Jusstina’s daughter, and the inspiration for the event, her grandmother said, as a way to honor her mother on what would have been her birthday. 

That short exchange, Mendez articulated, shows the true spirit of Paterson, a city where, despite its challenges, people want to help each other, lesson enough, perhaps, for Rikowich and Fitzsimmons, China Farrar and Ruben Gonzales.

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