LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Wyckoff Chief Steps Aside While Attorney General Investigates Racially-Charged Email

By David Cruz
Correspondent

Reaction to the email was swift condemnation, from the attorney general, community and legislative leaders. In the email sent to a number of unidentified recipients, Wyckoff Police Chief Ben Fox expresses frustration with what he sees is the environment in which police are forced to work.

“Don’t ask the police to ignore what we know. Black gang members from Teaneck commit burglaries in Wyckoff,” reads the email, released by New Jersey’s ACLU this week. “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. The police know they’re there to buy drugs. It’s insane to think that the police should just ‘dumb down’ just to be politically correct.”

“He says don’t tell us to ignore what we know and then what he claims to know are these incredibly racist assumptions about how people work, and an incredibly racist mindset and an incredibly racist mindset for a method of policing that says let’s take race into account when we’re trying to figure out when someone is suspicious and, again, that has been condemned by the attorney general for more than a decade,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Staff Attorney Alex Shalom.

The email is over a year old but profiling has been a controversial police tool for more than a generation despite legal action and heightened community awareness. So, how surprising is it to hear a police chief make such seemingly ignorant comments?

“Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but never the less, I am,” said Sen. Ray Lesniak. “This should’ve been put away a long time ago but it shows the need to have better training, better experience and diversity. Obviously, this still is a problem in America.”

There is no doubt that police are under more scrutiny nowadays. Images of gross police misconduct have led to protests and calls for reform. But there is an undercurrent in the country today — a backlash against the backlash, if you will — that suggests cops are maligned by the public and the media. One person giving voice to that sentiment happens to be running for president.

“They can’t act. They can’t act,” snapped Donald Trump during a recent GOP debate. “They’re afraid of losing their pension. They’re afraid of losing their jobs. They don’t know what to do and I deal with them all the time. We have to give great respect, far greater respect than we are right now to our fantastic police.”

Anthony Cureton is a former detective and now president of the Bergen County NAACP. He’s seen the discussion from both sides but says Fox’s point of view is outdated.

“We do recognize that, instinctively, we have to do things to solve crimes, speaking as a former law enforcement officer, but to target a specific race? That’s unacceptable,” he said. “Every black person in this instance, does not go to a town to do burglaries, nor do they sell drugs and that’s what he was portraying, or that was his sentiment in his email, to his staff.”

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said she was still shocked by the comments. “This is a police chief of an educated community right in Bergen County and the fact that, not only can he harbor such thoughts, but he puts it down in an email and talks about black gangs from Teaneck? Yeah, I am still somewhat surprised,” she said.

At an emergency town committee meeting, Fox announced that he would take an immediate administrative leave while the state Attorney General conducts an investigation. A release from the committee says the investigation is critical to provide context for the chief’s comments and to make it clear that “neither he nor our police department has ever condoned or engaged in profiling.”