Suspended chief of embattled police department accused of buying cocaine online

The Palisades Interstate Parkway Police chief, suspended from duty last month after a damning probe revealed years of problems in the agency, was accused Thursday of buying cocaine online.

Michael Coppola was charged with attempt to possess cocaine and having drug paraphernalia, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement. The 43-year-old top cop “had been purchasing cocaine via the Internet,” with the drug shipped to a post office box he maintained.

Detectives placed a package containing imitation cocaine in Coppola’s post office box after he made what he thought was an online drug buy, according to authorities. The chief was arrested in a stop on Route 80 in Ridgefield Park once he picked up the shipment Thursday.

Prosecutors did not reveal more details on the allegations.

The arrest came after the county prosecutor’s office placed Coppola’s department under monitoring in November and released a scathing public report examining the agency’s operations.

The report found a range of suspected violations of state laws and policing guidelines, according to a July report released by the county prosecutor’s office.

Among the purported wrongdoing under Coppola’s watch was an “awards and incentives” program that gave PIP officers who logged the most arrests and tickets better parking spots, newer patrol vehicles and a meal allowance paid by Palisades Interstate Park Commission funds, according to the prosecutor’s review.

The report also revealed a company Coppola owned, CJIS Solutions LLC, provided technology services for his department in what investigators called a “potential severe conflict of interest.” Though he did not profit from the arrangement, the prosecutor’s office ordered the chief to halt the practice.

Then-Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal launched a review of PIP police after several wild police chases that raised concerns officers were not following state regulations governing chases.

The review of PIP police pursuits between January 2014 and August 2017 found the department’s officers engaged in 41 chases that involved various violations of state guidelines, according to the report.

The prosecutor’s probe also found the department was using the Internet to lure small-scale drug dealers to PIP property to arrest them, a move that often crossed on the jurisdictions of other agencies.

Coppola was suspended July 16 and the department was set to name an interim leader. The report suggested the chief should attend management training upon his return, though it was unclear how the arrest would impact his fate at the agency.

James Hall, executive director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, had no immediate comment on the arrest.

“We will not have a comment at this time on action the Commission will take since we have just become aware of the arrest and do not yet know the specific charges involved,” Hall said.

Coppola earned a $135,000 salary at the PIP police, which he joined in 1996, according to pension records.

The approximately 25-member PIP police have faced calls to be disbanded over the years or merged under a state department. The agency patrols the Palisades Interstate Parkway and surrounding park property in New Jersey.

The chief is scheduled to appear in Bergen County Central Judicial Processing Court Aug. 22 on the drug offenses.

Records show Coppola was released from the Bergen County Jail Thursday afternoon. He could not be immediately reached for comment.

Noah Cohen may be reached at ncohen@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @noahycFind NJ.com on Facebook.

 

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