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NJ State Police Replace Famed Waterfront Commission in Port Crime Fight

Port of NY NJ
NJ State Police assumed the administration and crime fighting role for the port from the Waterfront Commission (Port of NY NJ file photo)

Published Jul 19, 2023 3:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

The state of New Jersey has officially taken over the regulatory and law enforcement duties for the port operations within the state that make up a critical part of the Port of New York and New Jersey. It brings to a close a five-year legal battle that went to the U.S. Supreme Court and seventy years of oversight of the port by the famed Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.

The New Jersey State Police and its Port Security Section assumed the duties of the Waterfront Commission as of July 17. This encompasses the administrative, regulatory, and law enforcement tasks formerly handled by the commission, including mandatory employment licensing for waterfront workers and conducting law enforcement investigations at the port. The State Police issued interim guidance until it can promulgate formal rules and regulations regarding its new oversight functions.

“Since day one of my administration, I have been committed to ending the outdated Waterfront Commission and replacing it with a structure suited for the 21st century,” said New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. “I know that the New Jersey State Police will do a superb job taking over the commission’s responsibilities, and I look forward to this new chapter in the port’s history.”

The Waterfront Commission came about as a direct response to the long history of corruption and organized crime in New York Harbor. Documented during the early 1950s including in a series of hearings about organized crime and the movie “On the Waterfront” with Marlon Brando, New York and New Jersey agreed to form the commission to fight the corruption in the port. Approved by the U.S. Congress and then President Dwight Eisenhower, the commission was launched in August 1953 and jointly administered by the two states.

New Jersey argued that given the changing needs of the port, the commission had outlived its usefulness. Supported by the unions they contended that the port is over-regulated and that the commission made it difficult to modernize the operations and change elements such as union work rules.  

The efforts to withdraw from the commission began in 2018 under New Jersey’s prior governor. New York’s prior administration argued that the commission still served a vital role saying criminals still attempt to influence hiring and operations at the ports. New York’s position was that the commission could only be ended by mutual consent. The successor governors of both states inherited the fight, continuing back and forth through the courts. The United States Supreme Court in April 2023 affirmed New Jersey’s right to unilaterally withdraw from the commission.

Officials said that the initial planning for the devolution of the oversight back to the individual states began before the Supreme Court’s decision, and tasks accelerated between the two states afterward to maintain the safety and integrity of the port. New Jersey says it has worked closely with New York officials to ensure an orderly transition that will have minimal impact on the day-to-day operations of the port.

“As we embark on this new chapter for the New Jersey State Police, we welcome the myriad of responsibilities of the Waterfront Commission. New Jersey State Troopers posse all the competencies to investigate and disrupt crime and manage a multitude of complex administrative functions,” said Colonel Callahan, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police.

Final planning for the transfer of responsibility to the respective state’s law enforcement authorities was completed over the last three months since the Supreme Court decision. The two states have pledged cooperation going forward through their respective law enforcement agencies.