IT WAS A DAY to be proud of the uniform, a sunny August afternoon to honor the badge at the Jersey shore and remember those officers who made the greatest sacrifice.
Two sources familiar with the Margate, N.J, Police Department say the 2010 Hero Thrill Show was also the day colorful Philadelphia lawyer and law-enforcement philanthropist Jimmy Binns, who likes to dress up in police uniforms, should have been arrested for illegally carrying a handgun. He wasn't — the sources say — because he's friends with the Margate chief.
"He's bought the Margate police," one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said recently about Binns.
Three officers who weren't bought by Binns arrested him in December, though, for removing a neighbor's "noisy" air conditioner at his bayfront home.
Binns was cuffed, put in a patrol car and placed in a cell, but criminal-mischief charges were later dropped by the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office. Binns insisted he had a legal right to remove the unit and recently announced he might sue.
"If I had it to do over again, I'd do the exact same thing," he told the Daily News after his arrest.
The officers who investigated Binns were the subject of an internal investigation, and last month, Patrolman Christopher Taroncher, the same cop Philly mob underboss Marty Angelina once spit on, was suspended with the intent to fire for his involvement in Binns' arrest.
Taroncher's attorney, James J. Leonard Jr., said the prosecutor's office authorized the arrest and the officers just did their job, regardless of Binns' "honorary chief" status, the plaques to fallen officers he's dedicated, and the motorcycles and bicycles he helped the department get.
"It didn't matter to him if he was arresting Jimmy Binns, Jimmy Walker or Jimmy the Greek. He believed a crime was committed and he did his job," Leonard said in a statement. "That's one of the things that police officers get paid to do. There is a lot more to being a police officer than simply wearing a uniform."
Binns likes to dress like a lawman, but the two sources say that he broke the law at the Hero Thrill Show in 2010, and that Chief David Wolfson turned a blind eye. In a picture taken that day, Binns is wearing an authentic-looking Philadelphia police uniform, complete with the patches, the black-leather gloves, and a fresh pair of aviator sunglasses. He's riding a realistic highway-patrol Harley-Davidson and dutifully obeying New Jersey traffic laws by wearing a motorcycle helmet.
The final touch to his faux uniform was a .40-caliber Glock holstered to his hip, which Wolfson admitted Binns did not have a permit to carry. Binns had applied for a New Jersey carry permit — in Margate — and had been denied before the Hero Thrill Show there, a source said.
No average citizen in New Jersey is granted a carry permit, and officers don't have much discretion when face-to-face with someone who is unlawfully in possession of a handgun. It's a second-degree crime with a mandatory three- to five-year sentence.
Binns' own website shows him and Wolfson together at the event, in Margate, but the chief did not arrest him, or even ask him to take the gun off, Wolfson said, because Binns drove in from Philadelphia that day with city police officers, wearing a "Philadelphia Highway Patrol" uniform.
It would have been an "embarrassment" for Binns, Wolfson said.
"Am I supposed to question whether he's legally carrying a gun, when he's with those guys?" Wolfson asked. "That would be like me questioning another jurisdiction."
Wolfson said it was "ridiculous" to think Binns was too close to the department, although sources allege Binns has stored personal wave runners on a police lot, was given an official Margate uniform and even had the security code to enter police headquarters. Wolfson once sent an on-duty officer to pick Binns up after his car broke down out of the county, a source said.
Wolfson said the gun issue was eventually brought to Binns' attention, although not by him. He added that Binns was never wearing a handgun while dressed in a Margate uniform. He also said it was a friend, not an on-duty officer, who picked up Binns.
"It's so ridiculous, so unbelievable," he said of the allegations.
Binns did not return multiple phone calls for comment. His attorney, Stephen Hankin, declined to comment on allegations made by the sources.
In Philadelphia, Binns has done so much for the department, more than any other civilian ever, that no one in the department would say a bad word about him, several officers told the Daily News. Binns has honored almost 300 fallen Philadelphia officers with his hero-plaque program and helped the city obtain dozens of Harleys. Binns also helped the Daily News fund a recent presentation of the George Fencl Award, which is given to a Philadelphia police officer worthy of recognition.
Commissioner Charles Ramsey, in a statement, said Binns is a "generous supporter" of the Police Department.
In February, former Daily News staffer George Miller questioned whether Binns should have been using an "Official Business" parking placard from the commissioner's office to park illegally, for coffee.
"He was parked illegally and knew it. I think he thinks he's a police officer," said Miller, who wrote about Binns on his blog.
Ramsey said Binns was advised that he does not have permission to use a parking placard and reiterated that any uniform Binns wears is not department-issued.
Lt. Ray Evers, a police spokesman, said the department hasn't gotten calls from anyone questioning Binns' behavior.
"Just you guys, that's it," he said. "He's done a lot of good for a lot of people."