YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said he was angered over learning from a reporter – before hearing from either school officials or County Police Chief Brian Higgins — that a full-scale police response followed a scare created when a BCC professor yesterday spotted one of his prosecutor’s detectives wearing a holstered service weapon.
Molinelli said he also was “startled” by a lack of security to determine when and where armed police officers are in the building.
Higgins, for his part, said he wants to speak directly to Molinelli about the notification process.
“We’ve had some heightened security because of the Jewish High Holy Days. People are conscious of this,” Higgins told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon. “But there was never a threat.
“Obviously, there was a swift response with eight or so officers in a matter of moments – ultimately about 10. We were never looking to lock down the campus or create an issue,” he said.
As for notifications, Higgins said: “We do not have a separate process for that. We follow the state guidelines on that and do it through the college. In this case, it was a student, for all purposes, taking a class.”
Molinelli nonetheless questioned why he, as the chief law enforcement officer in the county – and the representative of the state Attorney General’s Office – wasn’t immediately informed and had to first hear of it from a reporter.
“It appears that both the Bergen County Police Department and the security at Bergen Community College have taken the time to speak to quite a few people about this matter prior to speaking to me,” he wrote in a letter to Higgins.
The prosecutor said he spoke with BCC Public Safety Director William Corcoran and came away with concerns unrelated to those of school officials or Higgins’ department.
“As you know, Bergen Community College hosts many classes where police officers are in attendance. The particular class in question was an algebra class utilized by my officer in connection with the furtherance of his studies for fatal accident reconstruction,” Molinelli wrote. “The officer in question is a long time decorated officer well known to both your Department as well as most in the County.
“I am advised that he was wearing his service weapon, as well it as his handcuffs and, attached at his belt, a Shield clearly identifying himself as a police officer. That he was wearing his Shield was confirmed to me by Dir. Corcoran. This is appropriate dress for non-uniformed police officer[s], who are required to display their Shield either by lanyard or belt clip so that members of the public are aware that the person carrying the gun is a police officer. Certainly you will agree that we should encourage police officers to carry their service weapons even while off duty, as this provides additional security protections wherever they may be.
“I was advised by Chief Corcoran that when a particular professor passed this officer in the hallway, he could see both the gun and the handcuffs but did not know whether or not the officer was wearing a Shield. He properly contacted security, which in my judgment took appropriate procedures to ascertain whether or not the person with the gun was, in fact, a police officer. Dir. Corcoran advised me that while he was 90% sure that it was a cop, he wanted to be 100% sure of it.
“I have no difficulty with the actions taken by Dir. Corcoran and, I’m advised, a short time later the detective was located in a classroom and it was confirmed that it was he whom the Professor had seen.”
What bugs Molinelli is that his detective’s plainclothed dress raised suspicions, leading to the swift deployment of so many county officers and the possibility of a school lockdown.
“Obviously, both the college and other institutions in this County have a heavy presence of police officers in their classrooms,” the prosecutor wrote, “so I doubt that this would certainly be unexpected at any college or anywhere else.”
Also “startling,” Molinelli said, is “the fact that Bergen Community College has no procedures whatsoever for anyone with a handgun, police officer or otherwise, to register same at a security desk.
“While I cannot attest to what takes place in every public building this County, when a police officer enters the Bergen County Courthouse complex, they must check in at the security desk, where they are permitted to keep their service weapon but are required to wear a special red placard that provides the public with notice that they are a police officer.”
Molinelli said Corcoran told him BCC has “no such procedure.”
He said the two of them “left with the idea that I was going to explore it further and perhaps consider issuing a directive that require any non-uniformed police officer entering any school, college or of a public building the requirement to register their presence in that building.
“Any police officer that attends the college would, by simple student check, be located immediately, which would have prevented the somewhat difficult search for an individual that would match the description.“
Molinelli urged Higgins, whose department he said oversees security at BCC, to review protocols and procedures.
He also pledged to “consider to review this matter and anticipate issuing a directive to all law enforcement in Bergen County which will require them to register with the host facility upon presenting themselves at the building…. In light of the rather serious nature of this I thought I would advise you as well as Dir. Corcoran of my concerns at this time so that you are aware of same.”
Molinelli said he regretted not getting a call from Corcoran or Higgins office yesterday.
“It would have saved be the necessity of writing this letter, as customarily I would expect to receive something from you and Dir. Corcoran before receiving an e-mail from [a] newspaper,” he wrote. “I am sure you share my concern over it and the need to take corrective action so that it does not occur in the future.”
“We have a lot of police officers who take classes there,” Higgins responded. “We have a lot of police officers who teach there. We’ve never had an incident like this before.”