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Prosecutor: Wyckoff Police Chief's Racial Profiling Email Violated Order

Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox
Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox Photo Credit: CLIFFVIEW PILOT file photo

WYCKOFF, N.J. – Suspended Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox “explicitly” violated a state Attorney General directive with an email to his department that appeared to advocate racial profiling, acting Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal said Tuesday.

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UPDATE (Wed., Aug. 3): Calling it an "isolated incident," Wyckoff officials busted former Police Chief Benjamin Fox to patrolman for sending an email to his department that advocated racial profiling. Fox also was suspended for 180 days without pay by the Township Committee following a 90-minute closed-door session Tuesday night, Mayor Kevin J. Rooney said.

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A joint investigation by his office and borough police “did not reveal any substantiated instances of racial profiling” by any members of the department, Grewal announced.

“Nor did it reveal that [apart from Fox’s email] any member of the Wyckoff PD either encouraged or condoned racial profiling,” the prosecutor said.

“The investigation also concluded that, apart from Chief Fox’s e-mail, the Wyckoff PD did not endorse or encourage the practice of racially-influenced policing.”

Grewal said he has referred the handling of discipline for the Dec. 5, 2014 email to township officials.

“Police officers in New Jersey, including the dedicated officers of the Wyckoff PD, work tirelessly each day to gain and maintain public trust and confidence,” Grewal said. “Nothing undermines that effort more than allegations of racially-influenced policing.

“That is why Chief Fox’s e-mail, which clearly violated a long-standing and important Attorney General directive, required an immediate and thorough investigation. We now urge the Township of Wyckoff to review this matter and take appropriate action.”

A June 2005 directive issued by then-New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey prohibited all law enforcement agencies in the state from engaging in racially-influenced policing – the practice of “consider[ing] a person’s race or ethnicity as a factor in drawing an inference or conclusion that the person may be involved in criminal activity, or as a factor in exercising police discretion as to how to stop or otherwise treat the person.”

In March, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey received a copy of Fox’s email and forwarded it to the AG’s office, among others.

State authorities tasked Grewal’s office with investigating.

In his email, Fox wrote:

“Profiling, racial or otherwise, has its place in law enforcement when used correctly and applied fairly....

"Don’t ask police to ignore what we know. Black gang members from Teaneck commit burglaries in Wyckoff. That’s why we check out suspicious black people in white neighborhoods. White kids buy heroin in black NYC neighborhoods. That’s why the NYPD stops those white kids.”

New Jersey AG Directive 2005-1 states:

“No police agency or sworn officer or civilian employee of a police agency operating under the authority of the laws of the State of New Jersey, shall engage in or tolerate any practice or act constituting ‘racially-influenced policing.’” (AG Directive 2005-1 at ¶1(a).)

“A sworn officer or civilian employee of a police agency acting under the authority of the laws of the State of New Jersey shall not consider a person’s race or ethnicity as a factor in drawing an inference or conclusion that the person may be involved in criminal activity, or as a factor in exercising police discretion as to how to stop or otherwise treat the person…”

Grewal entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the township and appointed BCPO Capt. Timothy Condon as department monitor, overseeing and re-training all offivers on “relevant policies and practices” while aiding in the investigation.

Fox took voluntary administrative leave and Lt. Charles Van Dyk was named acting officer in charge.

The township later changed Fox’s status to “suspended with pay.”

Detectives reviewed “all available Wyckoff PD e-mail communications,” as well as arrest records, internal affairs complaints, use of force reports, juvenile arrest records and records concerning consent searches from Jan. 1, 2010 to March 25, 2016.

They also “conducted approximately 44 interviews, including an interview of Chief Fox and interviews of all Wyckoff PD officers,” the prosecutor said.

Grewal, a former assistant U.S. attorney, worked closedly with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (“NOBLE”) and the Attorney General’s Office to develop a mandatory training program.

This included:

• April 1: An Assistant Attorney General who is one of the foremost authorities on the issue in the state conducted a mandatory training seminar for the entire Wyckoff PD on the prohibition against racially-influenced policing;

• April 10: BCPO detectives trained the Wyckoff PD command staff on proper procedures for investigation of Internal Affairs complaints;

• April 11: BCPO detectives and a BCPO Assistant Prosecutor conducted a mandatory training seminar for the entire Wyckoff PD on cultural awareness; and

• June 8: A BCPO detective and a BCPO Assistant Prosecutor conducted a mandatory training seminar for the entire Wyckoff PD on the proper use of force and de-escalation tactics for police.

Additional mandatory training later this year will target racial bias and cultural competency, Grewal said.

Meanwhile, Condon recommended that the department improve its technology systems and record-keeping protocols, seek accreditation by the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police – and diversify its ranks, the prosecutor said.

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