Neighboring towns say they don’t want Lakewood’s wannabe cops on their roads
Officials in Jackson and Toms River want nothing to do with a volunteer civilian security force that helps police patrol the township of Lakewood.
The rebuke of the Lakewood Civilian Safety Watch by Lakewood's neighbors is the latest flare up among these municipalities, whose residents have struggled with a Lakewood population boom fueled largely by an influx of Orthodox Jewish families.
The group began in 2006 as a Shomrim — a Hebrew word for "watchers" — following the abduction and rape of an Orthodox Jewish woman, among other attacks. While the Safety Watch and the Lakewood police now work together, the group had initially been denounced by Lakewood's then-police director as a bunch of wannabe cops.
The group's blue and gold logo looks like a typical police department patch and their vehicles look like State Police or municipal police cruisers, complete with the red and blue emergency lights used by police.
The last thing our police officers need at a scene is a civilian masquerading as an officer...
As Lakewood's population continues to grow and expand out into neighboring communities, officials and residents elsewhere have bristled at sightings of Safety Watch in their municipalities.
Jackson Council President Rob Nixon on Friday said that he had seen Watch vehicles patrol his township streets, even making traffic stops.
"The last thing our police officers need at a scene is a civilian masquerading as an officer attempting to provide assistance," he said in a letter to Lakewood officials.
Nixon said Jackson's emergency responders "have no need for any 'assistance' from another town's volunteers and asked that they not cross the municipal border.
"I don't need to tell you both that the freelancing of civilians in law enforcement and public safety activity is potentially dangerous to the public and our police officers," he said, addressing the mayor and police chief.
Earlier in the week Toms River Police Chief Mitchell Little instructed the Lakewood group to "cease and desist any activity," he told the Asbury Park Press.
Lakewood Civilian Safety Watch responded on Thursday to what it called "unsubstantiated, ignorant, untrue and misleading allegations that were disseminated over the internet."
"We are in constant communication with law enforcement, and never embark on operations without coordinating a plan with the proper authorities," the group said, explaining that it had "received requests for patrols from numerous residents of the Rte. 70 area near the Lakewood-Toms River border."
"During his zone patrol, one of our members drove his marked vehicle down one block on North Apple St. in Toms River. We apologize if his presence on the street distressed anyone in any way."
The organization says its "diverse group of volunteers" includes "all genders, ethnicities, faiths, backgrounds and professions." The group still refers to itself as a Shomrim. Such groups are not unusual in heavily Jewish communities. Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn, for example, are patrolled by Shomrim.
Lakewood's population has doubled since 1990, making it one of the largest municipalities in the state. The population has been driven by growth in Latino and Orthodox residents.
Jackson and Toms River have strengthened their no-knock ordinances, with Toms River completely banning door-to-door real estate solicitors from some neighborhoods for five years, after residents complained about aggressive real estate agents trying to get owners to sell to buyers tied to Lakewood's Orthodox community.
Some officials compared the sales tactics to the racist practice of block busting, in which agents convince white property owners to sell at low prices out of fear that minorities moving in would drive prices even lower.
But some critics of these new laws say they're based on bigotry and fear of Orthodox Jews moving in.
Lakewood Mayor Menashe Miller in March said “it is fundamentally unjust and un-American to compare law abiding U.S. citizens engaging in legal real estate commerce to the hostile entry of a pernicious force. To say so, simply due to the fact that homebuyers are of a different faith and ethnicity than your own is pure, unadulterated bigotry."
Last month, meanwhile, Toms River police reported at least two instances of anti-Jewish messages scrawled on public property. A park picnic table read: "Go back to Lakewood, Jew.”
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-438-1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.