Michael Coppola, the chief of the Palisades Interstate Parkway Police Department, was arrested Thursday for allegedly buying cocaine and having it shipped to a Passaic County post office box, authorities said in a news release.
Investigators believed Coppola was ordering drugs through the internet and having it delivered to the post office box, according to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.
So prosecutor’s office detectives ensnared Coppola, 43, by putting a package filled with imitation cocaine in the post office box in response to a recent order, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Coppola allegedly picked up the package, which he thought contained cocaine, on Thursday, according to the prosecutor’s office. A team of detectives then stopped and arrested the chief on Route 80 in Ridgefield Park.
Where Coppola, of Totowa, was going after he picked up the package is unknown.
Liz Rebein, a spokeswoman for the Prosecutor’s Office, declined to give details about what sparked the Coppola investigation. She also declined to say whether anyone else at the department was involved.
“It’s an ongoing investigation,” Rebein said.
Coppola has been charged with attempt to possess cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia.
His first court appearance is scheduled for Aug. 22. He faces up to five years in prison.
Coppola’s arrest is the latest in a string of blows to the parkway police department, which has been dogged by controversy since the Prosecutor’s Office installed a monitor last November to oversee the department’s day-to-day operations and investigate its officers’ behavior.
The resulting report, issued last month, painted a picture of a rogue police force bound by few rules as it patrolled a narrow territory along Bergen County’s eastern edge.
The department regularly chased people needlessly or without permission, misused a variety of police tactics, failed to properly investigate officers against whom allegations of misconduct had been filed and awarded officers who wrote the most tickets or made the most arrests, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.
The findings led the overseeing Palisades Interstate Park Commission to suspend Coppola for 90 days, without pay.
It is unclear how Coppola’s arrest will further affect his employment.
Jim Hall, the executive director of the 10-member, bi-state commission, declined to comment Thursday night when asked what action it may take.
“We only found out this afternoon and only have limited information,” Hall said in an email.
Coppola, who did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, has led the department since 2014. He has been an officer with the parkway police since 2001, according to his LinkedIn profile.
The 28-officer department is tasked with guarding an 11-mile stretch of highway between the George Washington Bridge and the New York State line. They also secure the Palisades Interstate Park, a 2,500-acre slice of cliffs and forests along the Hudson River, north of Fort Lee.
The prosecutor’s investigation into the department began after the May 2017 death of Marlon Quiros, a 33-year-old East Harlem man who crashed his 2010 Yamaha motorcycle while trying to elude parkway police. The report said the pursuing officer hit speeds of more than 130 miles per hour while chasing Quiros and his alleged riding partner, Sheldon Lee.
About five months later, Gurbir Grewal, then the county prosecutor and now the state attorney general, appointed Deputy Chief Timothy Condon as monitor .
The prosecutor’s final report found parkway police regularly violated strict state guidelines barring officers from initiating high-speed pursuits unless the suspect committed certain criminal offenses or posed an immediate danger to the public. It also said officers often disregarded protocol when using hazardous police tactics like pursuing suspects into oncoming traffic or using their cruisers to box in fleeing cars.
The prosecutor also demanded an end to in-house drug operations that used the internet to lure small-time drug dealers onto park commission property to arrest them.
One such operation led to death of Denian Melo, a 21-year-old Bronx man who fell to his death from the Palisades cliffs while fleeing police in July 2017.
The Prosecutor’s Office has since retrained department officers on Attorney General policies regarding pursuits, use of force, bias crimes and racially-influenced policing and internal affairs procedures.
The department wrote nearly 20,000 tickets last year and collected $1 million in annual fines at its Alpine-based court, Hall said previously. That money goes into the commission’s general fund, and helps offset the $2.9 million cost of running the police and the $300,000 cost of running the court.