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Suspended NJ Police Chief Busted Trying To Buy Cocaine Online, Authorities Say

Michael J. Coppola had previously been suspended after his department was found to have systematically violated car chase protocols.

By Noah Hurowitz

A disgraced New Jersey police chief who was suspended last month after a damning report on misdeeds within his department has resigned after he was busted in a sting operation trying to buy cocaine on the internet, according to prosecutors and local news reports.

Michael J. Coppola, 43, the chief of the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police Department, was arrested Aug. 9 in a motor vehicle stop after cops in on the sting, along with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, witnessed him picking up a package he believed to be cocaine from a post office box belonging to him, prosecutors said.

Coppola is accused of buying the drugs online, and cops swapped the drugs for an imitation, according to prosecutors.

Coppola had been suspended in July after the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office released a report on his department, including allegations that his officers had violated car-chase protocol and that the department had violated conflict of interest rules by contracting a technology company owned by Coppola, NJ.com reports.

Before his suspension, Coppola had spent 22 years working with the department, which looks after security in Palisades Interstate Park and patrols 11 miles of of state highway between the George Washington Bridge and the state line with New York to the north, according to NJ.com.

His troubles began in November, when the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office began investigating what it described as a pattern of high-speed chases — including two fatal ones — that violated state protocol, the office said in a statement earlier this year. The report was prompted by one of those deaths, in which a motorcyclist crashed and died after a chase from police in which the vehicles drove as fast as 130 miles per hour, prosecutors said.

In July, the prosecutor’s office released a blistering report outlining alleged misdeeds by the department, including a habit of luring small-scale drug dealers into its jurisdiction to arrest them, authorities said. The practice led to disputes with neighboring law-enforcement agencies, and in one incident, a mark lured to PIPPD territory ended in tragedy when the suspect fled and took a fatal tumble off a cliff, according to the report.

Coppola’s department was found to be frequently in “flagrant” violation of the chase protocol, and failed to follow up with internal affairs investigations or discipline officers who chased suspects in an unsafe manner, prosecutors said.

Between January 2014 and August 2017, officers under Coppola took part in 41 chases that violated state guidelines, the report found.

On top of its allegedly dodgy chase policy, the department under Coppola also was accused of running a ticket-incentive program rewarding officers who met a certain quota of stops and citations, prosecutors said. Winners of the incentive program were rewarded with better parking spots and a meal allowance paid by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, which oversees the department, the report said.

Finally, the department also may have flouted ethical rules by contracting IT services with CJIS Solutions LLC, a company owned by Coppola -- a practice that, while Coppola did not charge for the services, was still ordered to end when the personal connection was discovered during the prosecutor’s investigation, NJ.com reports.

In the wake of the probe, Coppola — who was making a salary of $135,000 according to online pension records — was suspended July 16, with a recommendation from prosecutors that he undergo management training upon his return, but before he could come back, he was busted in the internet-cocaine sting, according to NJ.com.

[Photo: Bergen County Prosecutor's Office]

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