By David Cruz
It was an uncomfortable juxtaposition for a mayor facing reelection in the fall. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, trying to balance scenes of a new graduating class of police recruits, against the images captured by a witness after a fiery crash on Tonnelle Avenue, the culmination of a six-mile chase that ran the length of the city. The video shows police kicking a man as he emerged from a burning vehicle. Although the incident is still under investigation by the Hudson County prosecutor, city officials say the man being kicked and dragged in this video was not a suspect in the chase. He was, instead, a victim of the crash caused by the car being chased by police. The mayor was not holding back today, saying he wanted the cops responsible to be fired and to face criminal charges.
“There was one bad judgment after another bad judgement,” the mayor said at a press conference before the graduation. “The incident had a six-mile chase throughout Jersey City; there’s protocols on that. They fired their weapons from their car at another moving vehicle; there are issues with that. There are issues with how they continued the chase after additional information, and then there’s issues around what you saw on the video.”
But the police union today pushed back at the mayor, criticizing what they called his rush to judgement.
“Mayor Fulop’s statements and actions over the last days, his decision not to allow for a thorough and fair investigation, show again that his thoughts are with politics and not policing,” said a statement from the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association. “The focus of the members of the JCPOBA rest solely on keeping Jersey City residents safe, and we won’t let intimidation and bullying by politicians keep us from doing that.”
Councilman Rich Boggiano, a 30-plus year veteran of the Jersey City Police Department, said the investigation should be completed before anyone comes to any conclusions. He said the video looked damning.
“But why were they doing that? How about speaking to the police officers first. Remember what happened down in Maryland where the mayor came out and the other politicians came out condemning the police and then you had riots? You don’t say anything until you know all the facts. You have internal affairs go through all the issues,” he said, denying that he was referring to the mayor. “No, I’m not criticizing anybody. They have to learn. You don’t say anything until you have the facts.”
The city has worked hard to reboot the image of this department, but for every police graduation ceremony like the one taking place inside today, there seems to be another incident to slow that progress.
That includes an ongoing investigation into overtime abuses in the north district and the arrest of one of the commanders there after he left the scene of an early morning crash while driving a city car without authorization. Another complication: The cops involved have still not been identified.
“You just want to make sure that you’re accurate with the information, you want to make sure that the stories line up,” said the mayor. “It takes time to make sure its done properly.”
The mayor insists the images on the video do not represent what the city’s police force is all about, preferring that residents consider images of fresh new recruits joining the force as a truer representation of his city’s cops.