Last week, Fulop put a resolution in front of the City Council to push this initiative forward.
But Fulop's policy proposal has put him at odds with Police Chief Thomas Comey and some members of the council, who say the matter needs more study first.
At Monday's City Council caucus meeting, there was a heated discussion between Fulop and Comey over the feasibility of Fulop's proposal.
Already, the Jersey City Police Department has a departmental order on the books that calls for the seizure of a vehicle, but it is on a case-to-case basis. Usually, seized cars are held in a car pound near Liberty State Park. The department can go to the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, who may then apply to the State Superior Court for vehicle forfeiture.
After Fulop and Comey's sometimes-acrimonious debate Monday, City Council President Mariano Vega said the council would withdraw the resolution from the agenda, and put together a committee to study Fulop's proposal further.
Fulop made it clear on Tuesday that he was not happy with Comey's hesitation and with the council's decision.
"The guy's job is not to make excuses, [but] is to find ways to confront crime," said Fulop, who was also at odds with the city's previous police chief because of Fulop's complaints about crime in the city. "If there's a chance to take a harder approach, let's give it a try."
Last week, Comey said he still "respects" Fulop after what transpired in the caucus, but also agrees with the council on their decision.
"I am open-minded to any suggestions that help the department do a better job of law enforcement," Comey said. "I believe the best thing to do is to study this further rather than do anything hasty."'Political', or policy?
Monday's caucus became nearly raucous.
Comey had come to the meeting to offer his perspective on Fulop's proposal to the council. But Fulop revealed later in the meeting that two weeks earlier, he had been asked by Comey to postpone introducing the resolution until Comey was allowed to further research its merits.
Comey pointed out those arrested for a prostitution-related incident for the first time would be committing an offense, not a crime, so this would not warrant forfeiture. Only if an individual had been arrested previously could it be upgraded to a fourth-degree crime and forfeiture could be considered.
Comey said Fulop's forfeiture legislation is "problematic," citing issues of finding available storage space in the city for the vehicles and returning the car to its owner in the condition in which it was seized.
Comey also feared that if a car was seized for an offense rather for a crime, the driver could file a lawsuit against the Police Department and the city.
"If [the car's owner] wins his [legal] motion to get the vehicle returned to him, to get all property returned to him, it has to be returned in the condition in which it was seized," Comey said. "It becomes a burden to the taxpayers when you seize the vehicle."
Comey also said he talked to Hudson County Prosecutor Edward DeFazio, who shared some of Comey's concerns. Fulop was irked at the caucus, calling Comey's hesitation "political."
He cited Florida case law that allows for seizure on suspicion of a crime being committed.
Fulop went to say that he could find available land in Jersey City for holding the cars, and the seizure situation could be controlled by Comey.
"When you go and do prostitution arrests...it is based on a sting," Fulop said. "So you control how many cars come through."
Comey said that Fulop did him an "injustice" by accusing him of being "political."
Fulop shot back that any respect he had for Comey as an "apolitical" official "went down the toilet."
Vega interjected that a committee of council members, police officers, and representatives of the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office will study Fulop's resolution.
The two continued the verbal sparring until the presentation was over, and the two then discussed their differences on the issue outside the council caucus room. (See sidebar.) Other views on the issue
Several city officials who wanted to remain anonymous commended Fulop for pursuing the forfeiture issue, but did not appreciate his comments toward Comey, with one official referring to the young councilman as a "baby."
"I have dealt with Chief Comey for a number of years, and I find him to be reasonable and very professional," one unnamed official said. "Fulop himself has praised Comey in the past, and now because Comey doesn't agree him, he's 'political.' I don't understand that at all."
Another official said Fulop was going "full steam ahead" into the issue "without thinking" of whom he offends or hurts.
A longtime city resident, who identified himself as an "expert in police procedure," said last week that he agreed with Fulop's forfeiture proposal and thought it would be beneficial for the police.
"[Police] supervisors that I have talked to think it is a good idea," the resident said. "They see it worked in New York when former [Mayor] Guiliani did it."
But the expert said ultimately most police officers are "ambivalent" about the matter. Sidebar Seizing on the political angle
Tuesday, Councilman Steven Fulop explained further by what he meant when he accused Chief Comey of acting "political" in response to Fulop's forfeiture proposal.
"I am perceived by [the police] as somebody who would run for higher office," he said, "so they are putting politics in front of policing."
Fulop went on to say that he has faced "obstruction" from city officials whenever he has pursued "good government" issues in the past, such as calling for passage of "pay-to-play" legislation, calling for the ouster of former police chief Robert Troy, or calling for a freeze on hiring city employees.
He also said that Comey is a "political" hire of Mayor Jerramiah Healy and "serves at the whim of the mayor." - RK