Alpine, NJ – Was a Palisades Interstate Parkway police officer acting insensitively when he ticketed a Chaverim member for helping another community volunteer change his tire at a highway rest stop, or was he merely enforcing the law?
That question has been the subject of much debate since Wednesday night when a Chaverim volunteer from Williamsburg was issued a summons for coming to the aid of a Hatzolah member with a flat tire.
According to Rabbi Aron Kohn, founder of Chaverim, the Hatzolah’s member’s car was in the parking area at the far end of the Mobil station at the base of the northbound Palisades when the incident took place.
Rabbi Kohn said that the unidentified Chaverim volunteer recognized the Hatzolah member and had begun changing the flat tire when the men were approached by Officer Gregory Kimbro Jr. of the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police.
“The police officer said ‘you can’t work here it is a restricted area,’” Rabbi Kohn told VIN News. “He tried explaining that he was being a good Samaritan and wasn’t making any money but the police officer told him that he didn’t care and asked to see his license and registration.”
The offense on the ticket was listed as “unauthorized service vehicle,” and Officer Kimbro told the men that there were only two licensed operators who were permitted to serve vehicles on the southern portion of the parkway.
The actual cost of the ticket issued will be determined when the Chaverim member appears in court in Alpine, New Jersey to answer the summons on the morning of September 6th.
Rabbi Kohn described the Officer Kimbro’s actions as outrageous.
“The fact is that he was helping someone in a safe place,” said Rabbi Kohn. “It is so not American and makes no sense at all.”
Assemblyman Dov Hikind admitted to being puzzled by the incident and said that he is aware of been other instances where volunteers from the Jewish community have run into trouble with members of the Parkway police.
Rabbi Kohn expressed the same sentiment, saying that members of Hatzolah and Chesed Shel Emes have both had unpleasant encounters with Parkway police.
The Palisades Interstate Parkway Police has long been dogged by allegations of profiling by its officers, as previously reported on VIN News (http://goo.gl/ye5vHk), but complaints against officers dropped steeply after dashcams were installed in police cruisers in 2008. Former New Jersey Assemblyman John Rooney called for disbanding the force and placing the Parkway under the jurisdiction of the Bergen County Police Department in 2009.
“People have said the officers are anti-black, anti-gay, anti-Semitic and filed complaints against them,” said Rooney.
In a statement released on Thursday, Hikind said that the 27 member police force that patrols the Palisades is in need of sensitivity training and he offered to work with elected officials to clarify the situation in order to prevent further similar occurrences.
“This is America, where the president of the United States talks about volunteerism,” said Hikind. “We have had other problems in the past on the Palisades and I think it is time to address this so that things like that don’t happen again.”
Chief Michael Coppola of the Parkway police disagreed strongly with the notion that there was any insensitivity on display during Wednesday night’s incident. He said that an investigation into the matter revealed that the two men did not know each other and that Chaverim had been called to render assistance at the scene.
“They were part of a service that was called to respond and give aid,” said Chief Coppola. “He said that he was dispatched to the scene and he was issued a summons the same way that any other tow service would have received.”
The Palisades Interstate Parkway Police website clearly spells out the regulations regarding service and towing on the roadway, stating that only contracted service providers are permitted on the Parkway, in areas of the Palisades Interstate Park or other roadways within the Parkway system.
Currently there are only three authorized providers: Sano’s Towing in Palisades Park, BCL Towing in Teaneck and DTR Towing in Closter.
Chief Coppola noted that the fact that Chaverim does not take money for its services does not differentiate them from any other towing or service company.
“They were called just like AAA,” said Chief Coppola. “There is no difference between them and AAA.”
Chief Coppola noted that if the Hatzolah volunteer had called a friend to help him change the tire there would have been no issue, but calling Chaverim for help was a completely different matter.
“They called someone with a purposeful meaning to respond and render aid,” said Chief Coppola. “There is no spin here, no inference and no alluding to.”
The idea that the incident has evolved into a debate about insensitivity is troubling to Chief Coppola.
“This was not a surprise, not a catch 22 and not a gotcha,” said Chief Coppola. “That is very unfair to our officers and to our organization…and quite frankly that is discriminatory.”
Chief Coppola noted that his agency works hand in hand with nearby Hatzolah crews from New York and that Parkway police are notified when those ambulance corps, which are licensed in New York State, are traveling on the Parkway which runs through both New York and New Jersey.
He suggested that if Chaverim wants to help stranded motorists on the Parkway that they go through the approval process to become an authorized service provider.
“We take offense that we have become singled out as an agency just because they want to be more vocal than some other agency,” said Chief Coppola.