Email Suggests Wyckoff Police Chief Ordered Racial Profiling

March 22, 2016

ACLU-NJ asks AG to investigate authenticity of email; calls for chief's firing and examination of Wyckoff police practices if email is authentic

After receiving a copy of an email (PDF) from an anonymous source, the ACLU of New Jersey has called on the Attorney General to investigate whether Wyckoff Police Department Chief Benjamin Fox advised his officers to engage in racial profiling. “Profiling, racial or otherwise, has it’s (sic) place in law enforcement … 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,” the email, apparently sent to the town’s entire police department, said.

“When you look at everything we know about the kind of policing that fosters trust between officers and communities, this email shows Wyckoff heading in the opposite direction,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom of the leaked email. “Encouraging police officers to act with racial bias is unacceptable. Sowing mistrust at this level damages civil rights, and it threatens public safety by diminishing the faith people have in the police. If Chief Fox sent the email, community members — and the police department — will need real accountability to heal from this fractured and divisive approach to policing.”

The email addressed from Chief Fox was written in 2014 but anonymously shared with the ACLU-NJ the week of March 14. The email encourages officers to violate both state and federal civil rights laws that ban racial profiling, as well as an official statewide policy established through Attorney General directive that prohibits racially influenced policing. The ACLU-NJ asked New Jersey Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy to investigate (PDF) the email and, after determining the message’s authenticity, to fire Fox, retrain officers, and conduct audits for both racially biased policing and use of force.

The ACLU-NJ also filed an Open Public Records Act request (PDF) with the Wyckoff Police Department to understand whether the organizational culture as demonstrated in the email has affected police practices there. The request sought arrest data, use of force reports, stop-and-frisk numbers, training materials, and email correspondence containing “profiling,” among other records. The ACLU-NJ repeated a call it has made previously, most recently in a deep-dive report on enforcement of low-level offenses, for the Office of the Attorney General to mandate policing data collection and its public release, in Wyckoff specifically and in all New Jersey police departments.

“Racial profiling has no place in New Jersey, and if Chief Fox sent the email in question, then he must be held accountable,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer. “But removing one chief will not ensure accountability over police departments. This is a wake-up call for New Jersey to implement stronger oversight and transparency in policing practices across the state. That’s why the Attorney General must mandate that all police departments in New Jersey report to the public basic policing data — whether on stop-and-frisk or arrests and summonses — to determine whether racial bias exists in policing on our streets and on our roads.”

The ACLU-NJ has sent a letter (PDF) as well to Wyckoff Mayor Kevin Rooney, the Wyckoff Township Committee, Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal, and fellow advocates for police accountability, including the Bergen County NAACP, NAACP New Jersey State Conference, and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

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