For much of the decade, the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police Department logged at least 50 complaints a year about inappropriate behavior by its officers, including bias against minority motorists.
James Hall, the executive director of the Palisades Interstate Parkway Commission, acknowledges the history of such allegations from 2002 through 2007. But he says the complaints decreased to 15 out of 15,000 stops last year, after video cameras were installed in the patrol cars.
And he believes most of those 2008 allegations were unfounded, based on his examination of the film footage. “Either it didn’t happen or it didn’t happen the way the person suggested,” he said.
The complaints against the parkway police have been cited by two state assemblymen who proposed disbanding the force and replacing it with the Bergen County Police Department.
Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, who has since backed away from the proposal, said he still believes the department needs to be investigated. He said he received complaints from African-Americans, Latinos, Hasidic Jews, and Asians.
“The allegations of profiling and the inequity going on is something I still believe happened and was not addressed properly,” said Johnson, D-Englewood. “I believe there should be change up there. A change of leadership. There are only a few of them that have this behavior.”
Assemblyman John Rooney, R-Northvale, still wants the force eliminated.
“People have said the officers are anti-black, anti-Semitic and filed complaints against them,” he said. “The PIP have an attitude, a lack of respect. I believe the Bergen County police are more responsible.”
Sylvan Klein, executive director of Hatzoloh EMS of Rockland County, said the police have stopped ambulances transporting patients from New York State to hospitals in New Jersey and Manhattan. He criticized officers’ treatment of the drivers and said the last incident was a little more than a year ago.
But Hall blamed Hatzoloh for the conflict. He said the ambulance service is supposed to notify the police when it will be using the road for an emergency because it is not licensed in New Jersey.
Hall also said that many of the complaints against officers were about demeanor, not bias. The cameras have helped considerably, he said.
“Most were about demeanor. People didn’t like the attitude of the officer. I think officers probably hold their tongues a bit [now] when they are on camera.”
(Source: North Jersey News)