The chief of the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police Department will be suspended for 90 days following a review by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office that showed the department made serious mistakes over the last four years, authorities announced Thursday.
A report from the prosecutor’s office says that an investigation of the department, which included a monitoring program that began in November, resulted in the suspension of Chief Michael Coppola by the department.
The chief reportedly ran an “awards and incentives” program for officers who were rewarded for writing the most tickets and tallying the most arrests. Winners received better parking spaces, newer police vehicles and a meal allowance paid by Palisades Interstate Park Commission funds, the report states.
When the program was discovered during the investigation it was ended as it was considered to be a violation of state statues and rules.
The report also stated that Coppola’s company, CJIS Solutions LLC, provided IT services for the department and that it was a “potential severe conflict of interest.”
Coppola did not charge for, nor directly profit from these services, but the prosecutor’s office still directed the department to sever the agreement.
Finally, the review showed that officers created the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police Association, which was being represented as a charity instead of a labor group when the department solicited donations, authorities said.
The prosecutor’s office determined that actions of the officers did not warrant criminal action and that the department should conduct its own review for “possible administrative action.”
Coppola could not be immediately reached for comment.
The chief’s suspension will begin on July 16 and an interim chief will be appointed. The prosecutor’s office suggested that Coppola should attend police management training once he returns from his suspension.
The investigation was launched after the death of a motorcyclist who lost control and crashed during a high speed chase that exceeded 130 miles per hour.
The prosecutor’s office reviewed all of the department’s pursuits between January 2014 and August 2017 and found that police engaged in 41 pursuits during that period and they involved numerous violations of the New Jersey Attorney General’s Pursuit Policy.
The policy states that police are not allowed to engage in a vehicle pursuit unless the person they are chasing committed a specific criminal offense or posed an “immediate danger” to the police or public. The police violated this part of the police in 36 of the 41 pursuits, the report states.
The prosecutor’s office review showed that there were several other times that officers used a roadblock when they should not have, made contact with a vehicle they were chasing when it was not allowed, sped through intersections at dangerous speeds without slowing down and that more than two vehicles were involved in several chases.
The report also stated that police never conducted a formal review following any of the pursuits, another violation of the pursuit policy.
The investigation also showed that the department was using the internet to lure small-scale drug dealers to police property and arrest them, which often intruded into other department’s jurisdictions.
In one case, during one of the department’s operations, a man died when he fell off a cliff while he was running from officers following a motor vehicle stop that was part of a drug investigation. The incident was not reported to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office as required, the report states.
Following the review of the incident and similar narcotics operations, the department was asked to stop them by the prosecutor’s office.
“There were no (internal affairs) investigations of any of these violations and no discipline of officers for any of the violations,” the report states.
The review stated that violations “called into serious question” the department’s internal affairs guidelines related to the policy. The prosecutor’s office began supervising the the internal affairs department to “ensure its integrity” during the investigation.
No violations have occurred since the monitoring program began last year.
“This indicates that, with proper direction, the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police Department can be a disciplined and effective law enforcement agency,” the report states.
The review also stated that the department should update its policies and procedures and hire a law enforcement professional to help them with the task.