Fort Lee Police Department
|Fort Lee Police Department|
|Common name||Fort Lee Police Department|
Patch of the Fort Lee Police Department
|Preceding agency||Municipal Police|
|Legal personality||Governmental: Government agency|
|Operations jurisdiction*||Borough of Fort Lee in the state of New Jersey, United States|
|Agency executive||Keith Bendul, Chief of Police|
|* Divisional agency: Division of the country, over which the agency has usual operational jurisdiction.|
The Fort Lee Police Department was originally formed by ordinance on August 9, 1904. During this time the council appointed six marshalls. However the department was not formally established until October 5, 1927. During this time another ordinance was enacted to equip, organized and control the department. The first Police Chief was Andrew McDermott. He served the department for thirty-nine years. Council members, Peter Cella, John Mallon and John Reardon manned the police committee. Fort Lee is located in the south-eastern part of Bergen County, New Jersey, and is also the home of the George Washington Bridge.
The Fort Lee Police Department has been headed by Chief Keith Bendul since January 1, 2013. Prior to that, the department had been headed by Thomas O. Ripoli from 2004 through the end of 2012.
The main divisions of the department are the Patrol Division, Detective Bureau and the Traffic Division. The current table of organization calls for 112 sworn officers.
Officers Killed in the Line of Duty
Since the department’s beginning in 1904, only two Fort Lee Police Officers have been killed in the line of duty:
Police Officer William T. Birch was gunned down while responding to a hold up alarm at the Riviera Motel on Route 4 on September 4, 1966. James Beldon who shot and killed Officer Birch was originally sentenced to death in 1967, but that sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972. A mere ten years after having his death penalty commuted to life in prison, Beldon was paroled and a free man in 1982. In 2005 at the age of 79, Beldon was arrested for attempting to sell an illegal handgun in Massachusetts while bragging he had killed a New Jersey police officer and had gotten away with it. He was returned to prison in New Jersey for violation of his parole. Beldon died in prison 2 years later at the age of 81. In 2007 a Yellow Labrador K-9 Birch was added to the Fort Lee Police Department to honor the memory of William T. Birch. On June 6, 2009 the Borough of Fort Lee renamed Federspiel Street to William T. Birch Way in his honor. The location was fitting as it was in the same neighborhood that William Birch had lived in.
Police Officer Kevin R. Greener was killed in a motorcycle accident on August 9, 1999 while traveling to a patrol tactics class he was teaching. Officer Greener was formerly a sergeant with the Essex County Police Department, but left when the department was disbanded. Officer Greener also worked for the West Caldwell Police Department for two years, prior to settling down with the Fort Lee Police Department in 1993. Aside from being a defensive tactics instructor for the department, Officer Greener was also a member of the department's Emergency Services Unit. In August 2008, a German Shepherd K-9 Greener was added to the Fort Lee Police Department to honor the memory of Officer Kevin Greener. Within his first month on patrol, K-9 Greener had already assisted Fort Lee Police officers in making two large narcotics arrests.
Fort Lee Police Memorial Square
On September 12, 2009 the Fort Lee Police Department dedicated the Fort Lee Police Memorial Square. This is a memorial dedicated to all Fort Lee police officers. The Mayor and Council of Fort Lee donated the land on which to build the memorial, and the rest of the funds were acquired in the form of donations. The park is located on the north end of Abbott Boulevard, in an area where many local residents walk. The project to build the memorial was spearheaded by Chief Thomas Ripoli and Officer Mark Finocchiaro. The memorial was built by workers from the borough's Department of Public Works. Fort Lee PBA President Detective Kevin Kosuda stated "For every officer, they have a story and it's our duty to remember the officers that served in the line of duty."
The Fort Lee Police Department's Motorcycle Unit is composed of officers who depending on their primary assignment ride the motorcycle on a part-time or full-time basis. Officers from the Traffic Division tend to utilize the motorcycles more while working their regular shifts, and officers from other divisions usually ride for special events. The officers of the Motorcycle Unit ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles, and are required to undergo and pass rigorous the training of the Maryland State Police Motorcycle Unit. On June 28, 2009 three Fort Lee police officers earned awards in the Law Enforcement Motorcycle Skills Competition to benefit Special Olympics New Jersey that was held in Lyndhurst, NJ. Officer Kevin Mahon won first place in the Slow Ride competition, while Officer George Koutroubinis and Sergeant Scott Bendul took first and second place respectively in Challenge Ride competition. The motor officers from the motorcycle unit participate annually in the Andiamo Run, which is a local charity motorcycle run to raise money for area hospitals. On September 12, 2010 it was stated "The Fort Lee police dazzled attendees with a remarkable display of motorcycle tricks and expertise." On June 26, 2011 three Fort Lee police officers again earned awards in the Law Enforcement Motorcycle Skills Competition to benefit Special Olympics New Jersey. Officer Rick Hernandez took second place in the Novice Division, Officer George Koutroubinis took second place in the Expert Division and first place in the Challenge Ride and Lt. Scott Bendul took second place in both the Master Division and Slow Ride.
Emergency Services Unit (ESU)
The Fort Lee Police Department's Emergency Services Unit is a team of 20 to 25 officers who are responsible for a multitude of emergency services throughout the Borough of Fort Lee to include, but not limited to: Search warrant executions, barricaded subjects, bomb threats, high risk arrests, hostage negotiations, large disorderly crowds, etc. The ESU officers train together on a regular basis and are required to pass an annual physical fitness test. Currently ESU officers have other primary duties (Patrol, Traffic, and Detective) and are deployed and utilized as needed. The standard issue weapon for the ESU is a Heckler & Koch UMP45.
Past Events of Interest
- On October 6, 1951 the body of Fort Lee Police Chief Fred Stengel was found dead from an apparent suicide. Stengel had been awaiting trial on charges of protecting gambling joints for the Underworld Czar Joe Adonis. Stengel shot himself in the head with his service revolver. Big time gambler Willie Moretti was gunned down a few days earlier in nearby Cliffside Park, NJ. Moretti was "rubbed out" for talking too much, as he was expected to testify soon in Stengel's trial.
- On January 26, 1989 Fort Lee police officers arrested John Martini and Therese Afdahl for the kidnapping and murder of Irving Flax. Flax had been kidnapped by Martini and Afdahl three days earlier, and had already received $25,000 in ransom money from Flax's wife Marilyn. The ransom money was dropped at the Forum Diner in Paramus, NJ where Martini retrieved it. With the FBI on his tail, Martini was able to lose them in traffic as he made his way towards the Bronx, NY. On January 24, 1989 the dead body of Irving Flax was discovered inside the trunk of his car by a security guard at a mall parking lot in Paramus, NJ. Two days later Fort Lee police officers saw Martini and Afdahl exiting a motel in Fort Lee attempting to leave by taxi. Martini and Afdahl were placed under arrest, and a search found that they were in possession of $23,760 in US currency with serial numbers matching those recorded by the FBI prior to the ransom drop. After being found guilty of murder and kidnapping charges, Martini was sentenced to death and was originally scheduled for execution on September 22, 1999. Martini was sentenced to serve five life sentences at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, NJ and was not eligible for parole. Martini died in New Jersey State Prison on September 9, 2009 at the age of 79. Afdahl is currently serving two concurrent 30-year sentences at the Edna Mahon Correctional Facility for women in Clinton, NJ. She will be eligible for parole on January 24, 2019.
- On November 29, 1992 Fort Lee police officers Thomas Provenzano and Howard Ginsburg initiated a motor vehicle pursuit that lasted for over 50 minutes in duration and travelled over 60 miles in length. The pursuit started when two Newark men driving a car reported stolen at Newark Airport attempted to run over the two Fort Lee police officers who pulled them over. The pursuit ended in North Arlington, NJ and both suspects were apprehended. The pursuit, which had as many as 20 officers involved at times, reached speeds of 80 miles per hour and ended in a collision with one of the suspects being shot. This caused the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office to review the chase to see if officers followed state guidelines. In January 1993 the New Jersey Attorney General revised the New Jersey Police Vehicular Pursuit Policy.
- On June 26, 1998 the New Jersey State Supreme Court ruled in State v. Citarella (A-93-97) that a police officer can use his prior knowledge of a person's criminal history in conjunction with the officer's own training and experience to justify an investigatory stop. On August 31, 1992 in plain clothes Fort Lee police officer Phillip Ross observed Citarella engaging in suspicious behavior. The officer had arrested Citarella in the past, and was aware of Citarella's 28 prior arrests. The officer conducted a stop of Citarella based on the current suspicious behavior and prior knowledge of Citarella. Citarella was charged with and convicted of possession of cocaine in Bergen County Superior Court. Citarella had his conviction overturned by the Appellate Court, as they ruled that the officer did not have sufficient reason to stop Citarella. The New Jersey State Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Appellate Court's decision and reinstated Citarella's conviction.
- On June 28, 1999 Fort Lee police officers along with Teaneck police officers executed a search warrant of the home of Earl Simmons aka DMX (rapper). The search uncovered a Tec-9 semiautomatic handgun, hollow-point bullets, large-capacity magazines and a bulletproof vest. Simmons was not at home during the search, but surrendered himself two days later and was released on $50,000 bail. The search was spurned when two days earlier Simmons' uncle and manager Ray Copeland was shot in the Hilton Hotel in Fort Lee, NJ.
- On March 2, 2004 David Tyree of the New York Giants football team was stopped for speeding by Fort Lee police Officer Cory Horton. Subsequently Officer Horton discovered that Tyree was wanted on an outstanding traffic warrant, which led to Tyree and two passengers in his vehicle being arrested for possession of one half pound of marijuana.
- On September 29, 2006 Charly Wingate, better known by his rap alias Max B was arrested in New York City after a joint investigation by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office and the Fort Lee Police Department for the September 26, 2006 murder of David Taylor at the Holiday Inn of Fort Lee, NJ. Wingate was affiliated with the Harlem-based group The Diplomats or Dipset. On January 9, 2007 Wingate's bail was set at $2,000,000. On June 9, 2009 Wingate was found guilty on 9 of the 11 counts that he was charged with. On September 3, 2009 Wingate was sentenced to a 40-year prison sentence in Bergen County Superior Court on charges of Murder, Manslaughter, Kidnapping, Robbery and other offenses. He is currently being detained at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, NJ. Wingate will be eligible for parole on November 9, 2042.
- On December 27, 2007 Roosevelt Withers was arrested by Fort Lee Police Officers for the murder of Frank DeSimone Jr., who is a relative of the Lucchese crime family associate Thomas DeSimone, who was made famous when he was portrayed by Joe Pesci in the movie Goodfellas. Minutes before his arrest, Withers had shot DeSimone in the head as DeSimone was sitting behind the wheel of his Cadillac Escalade outside of his apartment in Hackensack, NJ. The Hackensack Police broadcast Withers' description to area departments, and Withers was apprehended by Fort Lee Police officers after a brief vehicle and foot pursuit near the entrance of the George Washington Bridge. Roosevelt Withers and some accomplices were involved in a robbery spree on January 15, 1993 in New York City that resulted in three NYPD officers being shot: Police Officers Ralph Vitacco, John Morris and Richard Aviles. None of the officers were killed in the gunfire exchange. Withers spent less than 14 years in the New York State prison system for the robberies and shootings of three NYPD police officers before being paroled on March 16, 2007. Roosevelt Withers was detained in the Bergen County Jail in lieu of $2,000,000 bail while awaiting trial. On May 3, 2011 Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi sentenced Withers to serve 27 years in prison for the murder of Frank DeSimone, Jr. Roosevelt Withers will not be eligible for parole until December 7, 2030; and must serve the full 27-year sentence upon his conviction of Aggravated Manslaughter. Withers is serving his sentence at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, NJ.
- On January 17, 2008 Fort Lee Police officers arrested Armen Hovsepian and his father Gagik Hovsepian for the 2007 death of Jason Ray. Jason Ray was the mascot for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team, and was staying at a hotel in Fort Lee for the NCAA tournament. On March 23, 2007 Jason Ray was walking along Route 4 returning to his hotel when he was struck by a vehicle reportedly driven by Gagik Hovsepian. Jason Ray was transported to Hackensack University Medical Center where he was later pronounced dead. The Fort Lee Police Department investigated the collision at the scene, and initially it appeared to be accidental. A witness later came forth stating that Armen Hovsepian was driving the vehicle, not Gagik Hovsepian as was originally reported to the Fort Lee Police. After a thorough investigation that confirmed the witness's statement, Gagik Hovsepian was charged with hindering apprehension, obstructing the administration of law and making a false statement under oath and is facing up to 18 moths in prison. Armen Hovsepian was charged with one count of driving while suspended in a fatal motor vehicle accident and hindering apprehension and is facing up to five years in prison. Jason Ray was an organ donor which resulted in saving the lives of four New Jersey men. Over 25 other people have received tissue from Jason Ray, and it is expected that up to 50 to 70 more people still may be helped by Jason Ray's generosity. The New Jersey Sharing Network would annually give an award to an individual who helps to raise organ donor awareness. The award has since been renamed The Ray of Hope. Jason's parents Emmitt and Charlotte were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show telling the story of how Jason had touched so many lives with his gift of being an organ donor.
- On February 10, 2009 Officer Dennis Pothos of the Fort Lee Police Department stopped a car being driven by Darnell Brittingham, also known by his rap alias King Tut. Brittingham was accompanied by his promoter Brandon Buckley. Officer Pothos smelled marijuana emanating from the vehicle, which prompted a search of the vehicle. The search uncovered cocaine, marijuana, a digital scale and small plastic bags. Both Brittingham and Buckley were arrested and charged with Possession with Intent to Manufacture/Distribute a Controlled Dangerous Substance. Brittingham was being held in the Bergen County Jail in lieu of $25,000 bail, while Buckley was being held there in lieu of $15,000 bail. Brittingham aka King Tut is an unsigned artist who is affiliated with the rap entourage 730 Dips, who are a subset of the Harlem-based group known as The Diplomats or Dipset. After he was released from the Bergen County Jail, on February 12 Brittingham allegedly stabbed his girlfriend seven times in a Hackensack apartment. Brittingham fled the scene making him a fugitive. His girlfriend survived the attack, and Brittingham was wanted on charges of Aggravated Assault by the Hackensack Police Department. Brittingham had vowed not to be taken alive by the police. On March 17 as police in Greenburgh, NY were closing in on Brittingham in the rear seat of a taxi cab, Brittingham shot himself in the head instantly killing himself. The Hackensack Police Department did confirm that Brittingham's charges were going to be upgraded to Attempted Murder.
- On January 17, 2011 the Fort Lee Police Department changed its standard patrol uniform. The uniform that it replaced had been in use without a major change since 1973. The new uniforms are more practical and durable. The new uniform design was created by police officer Nick Orta, and was implemented by Chief Thomas O. Ripoli. The new uniforms were part of a new line of tactical wear from 5.11, and the Fort Lee Police Department became the first police department to officially use them.
- On March 1, 2012 the Fort Lee Police Department began a campaign to raise awareness to pedestrians and motorists due to increasing incidents of pedestrian-involved vehicle collisions within the borough, with some of them ending fatally. As a result of the incidents, the Police Department started reminding pedestrians not to talk on cell phones while crossing the street to avoid distractions. On May 10, 2012 Police Chief Thomas O. Ripoli held a press conference in an effort to raise awareness to the issue noting that there were already 20 struck pedestrians this year with two fatalities, as well as 74 struck pedestrians in 2011 with two fatalities as well. Chief Ripoli stated “It’s not always the driver’s fault,” he said. “Pedestrians are not always aware; they’re not watching where they are walking.” Chief Ripoli also stated in relation to mobile phones "Technology has created an added distraction and pedestrians often do not hear a vehicle approaching or are not paying attention when they enter the roadway." After this press conference, many national media outlets began reporting with misleading headlines that led people to believe that the Fort Lee Police Department was going to issue summonses to people for merely texting and walking. ABC News and CBS News both reported with the same headline stating "Texting While Walking Banned in New Jersey Town" and Fox News New York reported "Fort Lee cops ticket texting pedestrians". Despite the fact that the articles were factually correct with misleading headlines, the controversy stirred up numerous blogs and discussions on the internet. British news media outlet BBC mistakingly reported "US town's police ban pedestrians texting and walking" and went on in the article to claim "Anyone caught texting whilst walking is fined for jaywalking" and "In just six weeks, they've fined 117 texters". Enough attention was culminated that on May 14, 2012 Jay Leno made a joke about it on his opening monologue of The Tonight Show and this issue was also a lead news story on World News with Diane Sawyer, in which the Chief Ripoli was lauded by Sawyer for cracking down on what she described as a serious problem. Chief Ripoli also cleared up rumors of ticketing text-messagers on May 14, 2012 denying widespread news that the borough would prosecute people for simply texting and walking. "Despite some information circulating around the Internet or some media sources, the Fort Lee Police Department is not issuing tickets to people walking while using electronic devices," said Ripoli in a press release. "Walking and using such devices is not against the law."
- On May 12, 2012 professional soccer player Wilman Conde of the New York Red Bulls was arrested by Officer Pete Lacovara and Officer David Kurz for assaulting Officer Lacovara during a noise complaint. Conde was released in his own recognizance pending a court appearance. The owner of the apartment, Fhanor Dominguez-Sanchez, was also issued a summons for violating borough ordinance for excessive noise.
- On January 2, 2013 Adam Kim filed a federal civil suit against officers of FLPD. The suit contends that the officers violated Kim and four other (then) teens' civil rights when the officers left the five teens in a police van for 15 hours in below freezing temperatures without food or water. The teens were forced to urinate in the van as they had no access to a bathroom. The suit also contends that the incident was racially charged, that the officers referred to the teens as "chinks". According to the complaint, twelve individuals were transported in the police van after being placed into custody, without being told they were under arrest or read their Miranda rights, at a house party. Upon reaching the police headquarters, some teens were led inside the building, and others (mostly of Asian descent) who had their cell phones confiscated, were locked within the van.
- On October 31, 2016 the Fort Lee Police Department arrested Jeurys Familia, a professional Major League Baseball pitcher for the NY Mets on charges of domestic violence / simple assault.  In December of 2016, Fort Lee Municipal Court Judge John Desheplo dropped the charges citing that the victim did not want to press charges and the lack of a domestic violence history between the couple. Familia had been featured in television ads sponsored by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, which were pulled from television after his arrest.
- On September 3, 2017 Fort Lee Police was in a police-involved shooting.
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