Two state troopers have been suspended thus far, and while the State Police Commissioner is trying to limit the damage by claiming the actions are isolated to only one command, the fact is that the state police engage in hundreds of escorts each year. There's no breakdown of the kind of escorts or whether private parties are requesting escorts, but escorts can involve any of the following: high-profile funerals, dignitaries, to help the U.S. Secret Service or for any large amount of traffic that might impede the flow of a highway.
In his first appearance since revelations of the caravans emerged Sunday, Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes also said troopers perform hundreds of escorts every year, but refused to say if those could include private groups of luxury cars, calling the question a "hypothetical."The two officers have been suspended without pay.
"The permission is given at local command," Fuentes said after a hearing in Trenton. "And so we entrust our local command to authorize those escorts." He added he was unaware of the escorts before they happened and, "I hate for this to be a blemish on the rest of the organization."
As news of investigations into the caravans rippled across the country, drawing condemnation from AAA New Jersey, Fuentes confirmed he and his top commanders will meet Wednesday with Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, whose office is reviewing guidelines for State Police escorts.
The meeting will focus on "professionalism" within the ranks, according to two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigations. In particular, one source said, the tone of the meeting will be to emphasize "unprofessional actions will not be tolerated."
The sources requested anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss the investigation.
Also today, another person came forward saying she witnessed the March 30 caravan of dozens of Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other cars racing down the Garden State Parkway with two State Police patrol cars. The caravan was deemed by one onlooker as "Death Race 2012."
The escort policy needs to be revisited in a serious way and those in the police command structure who tolerated these actions need to be reprimanded. The officers involved were not the only ones who should be punished. Their actions were the result of superior officers allowing this behavior to continue and/or actively engaged in directing officers to provide these escorts.
Gov. Christie has to make it clear that he will not tolerate this kind of behavior among the state police. They have to be held to the same standards as everyone else driving - and escorting high-end sports cars at a high rate of speed creates unsafe conditions for all other drivers along the highways - potentially exposing the state to liability for any accidents that occur (and the cautionary tale of Jon Corzine's near-fatal accident with a state police driver at the wheel should be a reminder that accidents do occur).