May 24, 2004: Tom Rowan, the webmaster of NorthBergenPD.Com, is a patriotic guy. North Bergen, where Tom lives and where he once served as a cop, is part of Hudson County, New Jersey. Hudson County is right across the river from lower Manhattan. Area residents experienced 9/11 up close and personal. Many could see the attack from their windows -- or from streets and parks. A large number of people from Hudson County worked in the World Trade Center. Many of them died that day. Almost everyone knew someone who was a victim, or who was connected to one. Hence local support for the War on Terror has been strong. When accessing Tom Rowan's website you pass through a 9/11 memorial which includes a graphic of a weeping eagle. So it seems odd that North Bergen township officials are trying to shut down Rowan's website by declaring it a "threat to Homeland Security".
NorthBergenPD.Com has been online for seven years. Before launching the site, Tom Rowan researched the domain name. He was extremely careful about not "violating anyone's legitimate trademark rights, common law or otherwise". The site's home page says "NorthBergenPD" stands for "North Bergen Public Domain". The general topic is local politics with a focus on (surprise surprise) North Bergen's police department. The style is gritty, with the kind of black humor typical to cops -- and to residents of corrupt machine cities. North Bergen, along with Hudson County, has a lengthy history of corruption. North Bergen is currently the subject of a federal corruption probe which has so far produced convictions of a Township Administrator, a Parks Commissioner, a purchasing agent for the Municipal Utilities Authority, a city contractor and a former aide to North Bergen's long time mayor, Nicholas Sacco.
While NorthBergenPD.Com is more raunchy than some good citizen sites, it captures the surreal rot afflicting too much of Hudson County's civic life. Not only does Rowan dish pay for play politics, he also serves up local pols and police who hang with -- and allegedly hustle -- hookers. North Jersey's proximity to various points of entry to the USA, plus its position at the hub of interstate highway transportation, makes its counties a clearing house for international and domestic sex traffickers. The area has a high density of commercial sex establishments and Hudson County has suffered some major scandals re law enforcement involvement. Mysterious deaths of whistle blowing working girls are also Rowan's beat.
Naturally NorthBergenPD.Com isn't a hit with North Bergen township officials. During its seven years of existence there have been other attempts to shut it down. In 2001, the contention was made that the website's domain name "gives a false impression that it is.. an association of law enforcement associated with the township". These attempts went nowhere, thanks in part to local media attention. Plus Tom Rowan is not only patriotic, he's also law abiding.
In early January of this year, NorthBergenPD.Com started webcasting police scanner broadcasts. In New Jersey, any private citizen can legally own a police scanner. The only stricture is that it not be used in the commission of a crime. Other sites in Hudson County are also webcasting police scanner broadcasts.
On the evening of May 6th, Tom Rowan came home to find he'd been served with legal papers by the Township of North Bergen. Since he'd been out, the papers were dropped off with his neighbor, who gave them to Tom in a grocery bag. Tom was ordered to appear before Superior Court Judge Maurice G. Gallipoli of Hudson County on May 10th, at an "Order to Show Cause" hearing. His police scanner webcasts were a "threat to Homeland Security". And his website's domain name should be the sole property of the North Bergen New Jersey Police Department.
With only a few days before his court appearance Tom had little time to find a lawyer. Nor did he have a hefty retainer fee on hand. So over those few days he researched and wrote a letter which he hoped would serve as a brief. He delivered the letter/brief to Judge Gallipoli the morning of the hearing. At the hearing (which was held to address whether immediate injunctive relief was appropriate, not to address the overall charges) Superior Court Judge Gallipoli asked North Bergen Township Attorney Herbert Klitzner, a number of questions.
Regarding the scanner, Judge Gallipoli asked Klitzner if anyone could get a scanner from Radio Shack and listen to the North Bergen Police. Klitzner answered yes. But he also said that anyone with Internet access could listen to Rowan's police scanner transmissions and plan a terrorist act in North Bergen. To which Judge responded "Couldn't anyone with a scanner do this?" Klitzner conceded the point. Re the domain name, Judge Gallipoli asked if the township of North Bergen already has a domain name. They do: NorthBergen.Org. Gallipoli then asked Klitzner why the North Bergen police couldn't get a site with a dot Gov domain. At another point Judge Gallipoli suggested several other alternative domains. But Klitzner continued to insist on the township's right to the domain name NorthBergenPD.Com.
Judge Maurice Gallipoli ruled against the township of North Bergen's request for immediate injunctive relief concerning the domain name of Tom Rowan's website and his police scanner webcasts. But the charges must still be addressed. Tom has to provide Judge Gallipoli with the name of his attorney in less than 30 days. He could use a little legal assistance. Preferably pro bono. Tom Rowan isn't a rich man -- just one of those dogged Internet types who believe they have a right to lift local rocks. And to speak freely about what lies beneath.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
This article first appeared on the kuro5hin website
Contact Tom Rowan at:
Polaris Project: New Jersey State Profile, HumanTrafficking.com Report, 2003
Former North Bergen Township Administrator Sentenced to 36 Months for Corruption Conviction, 07/11/03, News Release, United States Department of Justice
Parks chief gets prison term for kickbacks, 02/03/04, Peter J. Sampson, Bergen Record
For confidential tips and comments mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: email@example.com should no longer be used