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Chief Fox on ACLU Report: 'My Officers Did It Wrong'

"I consider the ACLU inquiries a form of training," says Wyckoff Police Chief Benjamin Fox. "That's nothing to be afraid of. It's a good thing. I actually welcome it."

Wyckoff's chief of police says an ACLU report citing his department as one of hundreds that improperly handled an internal affairs request is a learning experience that will result in training for his officers.

Last year the ACLU called nearly 500 police departments across the state and asked officers questions about filing IA complaints. More than half the departments answered at least one question incorrectly and 51 departments did not get a single question right, according to the report.

In an audio clip played throughout the day Tuesday on WNYC, a caller from the ACLU can be heard in conversation with someone the station identified as a Wyckoff Police officer.

“No. No complaints can be taken over the phone – we can’t identify with whom we’re speaking,” said an officer at the Wyckoff Police Department.

“It’s got to be done in person.”

Then the caller asks if there’s any way to do it anonymously.

“No, an anonymous complaint against an officer – that’s – absolutely not, that would never happen in any jurisdiction ever,” the officer says.

That's incorrect according to New Jersey law, which states that "every law enforcement agency must accept reports of officer misconduct from any person, including anonymous sources, at any time" and “under no circumstances shall it be necessary for a citizen to make a sworn statement to initiate the internal affairs process.”

The sergeant taking the call made a mistake, Police Chief Benjamin Fox said, adding that his entire department will get an internal affairs training refresher.

"I consider the ACLU inquiries a form of training. That's nothing to be afraid of. It's a good thing. I actually welcome it," he said.

"My officers did it wrong," Fox said. "We'll learn from that and be better tomorrow... if we take a real IA call on that today, I'm confident that our response will be according to the NJ guidelines."

Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said his office would begin distributing copies of the rules to police departments around the state, according to the ACLU report.

A list of departments whose officers answered everything correctly is available online.

Have a question or news tip for Wyckoff-Franklin Lakes Patch? Contact editor Joseph M. Gerace at Joseph.Gerace@patch.com, or find us on Facebook and Twitter. For news straight to your inbox every morning, sign up for our daily newsletter.

RRV February 13, 2013 at 07:01 PM
I would not have even answered the ACLU. I do not recognize that organization. It's a scam.
RRV February 13, 2013 at 07:03 PM
These are the same people who would sue you if a criminal got hurt breaking into your house. Why do we even entertain them? Political correctness will be over soon......trust the statistics.......they don't lie.
qdogPa February 13, 2013 at 07:59 PM
Forget the ACLU made the call, the real issue is the WPD got it wrong,period...As Chief Fox stated, it was a learning experience, and they will get it right...
John Briggs February 13, 2013 at 08:59 PM
It really doesn't matter that the ACLU is involved, as Chief Fox clearly indicated that his officers did not handle the call correctly. More importantly though is that he stated he would ensure that his officers would get an internal affairs refresher as well as copies of the rules. Im surprised to see people crying about the ACLU in this instance. Whether you like the ACLU or not, they brought attention to a policy that was not being enforced properly (by the departments own admission), and will be corrected.
Ronald J McCormack February 13, 2013 at 09:33 PM
The ACLU is a bunch of bottom feeding scum. They bait good organizations and try to make them appear incompetent. Instead of quietly correcting the issue by speaking with Chief Fox they went Hollywood and went for the big splash in the papers. Everyone should cut off the funding to these left wing extremists. The Wyckoff Police Department does a fine job of protecting the residents of Wyckoff. For those of you that like the ACLU call them next time your house is burglarized or you are assaulted and robbed.
Jim February 13, 2013 at 09:34 PM
Nice job Chief Fox, that is the proper way to handle this matter. We need correct information from the police department whenever it is called, no matter who is calling, ACLU or otherwise.
Wyckoff Resident February 14, 2013 at 02:45 AM
Very proud of Chief Fox's response! Rather than making excuses he owned up to a short fall and saw it as an opportunity to improve. I too am not a fan of the ACLU but this has nothing to do with WHO is finding a shortfall. The important thing is that the WPD was informed about a potential problem and is addressing it. Well done Chief Fox.
Larry Whitford February 14, 2013 at 03:03 AM
For all you ACLU supporters, how would you feel if your boss would entertain an anonymous complaint against you? Keep in mind, anyone can say anything about anybody. Even criminals have the right to confront there accusers. Chief Fox had the proper response and hopefully if a complaint did come in, it would be filed in the garbage immediately. Police officers have enough to worry about without this kind of crap.
Justice February 14, 2013 at 03:39 AM
Totally agree regarding anonymous complaints . It is our constitutional right to face our accusors. Plain and simple.
qdogPa February 14, 2013 at 01:09 PM
What is the percentage of bogus complaints against police? I would say few, if any,in a town like Wyckoff...I also do not support the ACLU, but have no problem with an anonymous complaint..How is this any different then an anonymous complaint about a neighbor doing something illegal, and the police investigate?
Ed February 14, 2013 at 01:13 PM
Justice - There is a double standard being applied by the police. A few of years ago, the WPD kept harassing me about some bushes I have that were "... five inches too tall." Five inches!! Give me a break!! When I pointed out that a few houses down a neighbor had the exact bushes that were at least 3 FEET too tall and more sight obstructive, they replied "We're not concerned about that!" When I asked who complained, their response each time (for at least five years) was the same "It was an anonymous caller." I also have neighbors who were the subject of an anonymous caller and were told the same thing. When I found out that it was a volunteer fireman who was complaining, that put everything into perspective. Different rules and laws for different citizens. It comes as no surprise then that when someone wants to complain about the police, they won't entertain the call from an anonymous source about themselves but they will definitely handle one about a "non-priviledged" citizen. So, Justice, your claim that we have a constitutional right to face our acusers seems not to apply in all cases (as it legally should) in this town. Your "status" determines that.
Jim February 14, 2013 at 01:20 PM
Larry, are you Ok with the police giving out wrong information to people calling them? It is not relevant that the ACLU did the calling, what is relevant is what it exposed.
Bernadette February 14, 2013 at 02:49 PM
The whole story on the WNYC broadcast hinged on a story about a black man who had gotten lost on his way home from Philadelphia where he had dropped his son off at college and was pulled over by the police and aggressively questioned for 20 minutes. The officer kept asking him "typical racist questions" over and over in an attempt to get answers that would verify his suspicions. The story says, "the stop was caught on video by a camera on Schaeffer’s [the officer] car. A few days later, Jones [the driver] filed a complaint against the officer. And then, he got a phone call from the county prosecutor’s office. He was told he had two hours to turn himself in before he would be arrested. He was being accused of filing a false complaint against the police, facing jail time of eighteen months." I may not agree with all of the issues the ACLU chooses to pursue but instances like this are unacceptable. They called a lot of stations across the state and many of them gave incorrect information about filing complaints. Wyckoff's response was just the one that was chosen for the broadcast. I'm happy that Chief Fox is using this error as a learning experience and that the criticism has been constructive.
Ben February 14, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Kudos for a measured and appropriate response Chief Fox. A lot of vitriolic responses from ACLU haters. I agree with many who don't like the issues/causes the ACLU chooses to support/pursue, but at the end of the day they take the role of defending constitutional liberties. As for the comments on anonymous complaints, the purpose of anonymous complaints is to minimize harassment. This is no different than whistleblower programs in industry and gives organizations the opportunity to investigate what may be inappropriate or damaging behaviour.
Larry Whitford February 14, 2013 at 11:23 PM
As a police officer for 32 years ( six years in Wyckoff in the seventies) and 25 years as a supervisor, I can tell you that Wyckoff PD may receive few anonymous complaints but big departments like mine in Broward County Fla. receive hundreds. It's stardard SOP to try to put the police on the defensive and shifting focus off your criminal behavior over to the officer. How would you expect anybody to feel when asked to justify something they know nothing about, lodged by an unknown person and yet will become a perminant part of their I.A. jacket. Even having unfounded complaints in you file can cast doubt about you conduct. I could care less about the ACLU making a complaint, I care about the issue at hand. Kinda like having someone calling your spose anonymously and telling them they saw you coming out of a motel with a young lady and passing her a few twenty dollar bills. Think about it.
Ed February 15, 2013 at 03:57 AM
Way to dance around the issue larry. At least Chief Fox has the decency and guts to admit that his officers did wrong and welcomes it as an learning experience. You, on the other hand, state "I could care less about the ACLU..." showing the world your outrageous bias when, as a PUBLIC SERVANT, you should be concerned about ALL complaints concerning alleged misconduct of those reporting to you! By your aforementioned statement, I find it utterly incredible that you were actually in charge of police officers and could honestly feel that you were concerned with the safety and well-being of the entire community (as long as they looked like and felt like you do). Whether or not you agree with the ACLU as an entity, and you apparently do not, you come off as an elitist, racist pig who is willing to bury your head in the sand and deny any wrongdoing by your troops.You are no better than the parent of a killer who says "Oh, not my child. He's a good boy!" You didn't by any chance happen to serve with Lt. Calley and his superiors in Viet Nam, did you? Are you also going to defend the hundreds of priests who molested all those young children because, due to their superior position in life, the priests can do no wrong? Guess the ACLU was wrong on that subject also!! Kudos to Chief Fox for his honesty! Glad he's cut from a different cloth than whitford (no typo; I just couldn't bring myself to capitalize the name of such an ignorant thing!)
Jenne February 15, 2013 at 03:16 PM
Larry, if you don't like the law, work to get it changed. The point is that it IS the law of the WHOLE STATE of NJ that anonymous complaints have to be taken down and addressed. In a state with so many police departments, there's bound to be a few with problems, and this law exists because of them. But this situation highlights a case where the officers didn't understand the laws of the state, and provides an opportunity for training, so that they are more familiar with the law.
Jenne February 15, 2013 at 03:17 PM
Again, Larry, if you don't like the law, work to get it changed.
heather konowitz assad February 24, 2013 at 12:19 AM
What is wrong with you people?? For all the complaining that people do to complain about a very few unethical officers, do you realize that a police officer might just be the person who saves your life one day in any number of ways? My Pop, who was a police officer in Wyckoff many years ago, still to this day would not think twice about being the first man jumping in a dangerous situation to save the day!! Talk about a role model!!

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