Lakewood, NJ – A meeting to be held tomorrow night between a group of Ocean County mayors will discuss the ongoing concerns regarding a Lakewood citizens patrol that has recently come under fire by officials in neighboring townships.
As previously reported on VIN News (http://goo.gl/UF93SF), the Lakewood Civilian Safety Watch has already been banned from patrolling in Toms River by police chief Mitchell Little, with Jackson mayor Mike Reina expressing concern that the neighborhood watch group was deliberately trying to pass themselves off as members of law enforcement.
The closed door meeting is being convened by Lakewood police chief Robert Lawson to combat misinformation about the LCSW, according to the Asbury Park Press.
Lawson declined to say who would be at the meeting or where it would be held, but did say that representatives of the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department and Prosecutor’s Office had both been invited.
Lawson noted that while the LCSW had clashed with local police on occasion in its early days, sometimes overstepping boundaries, improvements have been dramatic since Rabbi Israel Bursztyn took charge of the group.
“I don’t remember the last time I’ve had an issue where I’ve had to call them in and say, ‘You can’t do this. You’re going too far. You’re not cops,’” said Lawson.
With Lakewood’s dramatic population explosion in recent years, Lawson noted that the LCSW has been an asset to the town, supplementing his already overtaxed force of 130 officers and providing assistance in burglaries, robbery arrests and during Hurricane Sandy.
Lawson said that he relies both on the LCSW and Chaveirim to respond to numerous calls and to monitor the area for suspicious activity.
“If anything, I would think (residents) would feel comfortable having them around because if they see something suspicious, they’re going to call the police department,” said Lawson.
Lawson refuted allegations that the LCSW, which is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as Lakewood Shomrim Inc., is exclusively Jewish. Lawson noted that the patrol has evolved over the years and includes members of different races and ethnicities.
A resolution passed Tuesday night by the Jackson Township Council bans local police from affiliating with any neighborhood watch group based outside of the township. Rob Nixon, president of the Jackson Township Council, said that the action came in response to complaints from residents who were unhappy that the LCSW had been observed patrolling Jackson streets.
Nixon also took the LCSW to task for directing traffic and arriving at emergency scenes before emergency medical personnel and firefighters.
“It’s best to let [first responders] do their job and let a neighborhood watch serve the purpose of what they’re intended to do,” said Nixon. “When things are suspicious, a neighborhood watch is designed to call the authorities.”
Nixon denied that the council’s actions were motivated by anti-Semitism and said that Tuesday’s ban was also unrelated to recently enacted no-knock ordinances in three townships near Lakewood.
“I’m very sensitive to the impression that everything we do in town is anti-Semitic,” said Nixon. “I don’t want that to be the impression. We’re a great community. We welcome everybody, but we have rules. Just follow the rules.”
Friction has continued to build in and around Lakewood as Orthodox Jewish families have been eyeing properties in nearby communities.
Lakewood mayor Menashe Miller took Toms River mayor Thomas Kelaher to task in March for describing the influx of Jewish residents to the area as “an invasion,” categorizing his remarks as “pure, unadulterated bigotry” and demanding an apology. Kelaher refused to back down from his remarks, saying only that he had been misunderstood.
Word also came today about an unannounced meeting held in April which brought together the mayors of Lakewood, Jackson, Howell and Manchester to discuss issues affecting their communities.
The meeting was called by Jackson Mayor Reina and, according to emails, the agenda included blockbusting, illegal renovations, harassment tactics used by realtors and other relevant issues.
The four men issued a statement today to the Asbury Park Press saying that while they could not discuss specifics, the meeting was intended to initiate conversation and promote an exchange of ideas.
“Each of us welcomed the dialogue and we look forward to maintaining the channels of communication,” said the statement.
According to a Bloomberg article, the number of births in Lakewood has skyrocketed from approximately 2,400 in 2002 to just under 4,000 in 2012. With this growing baby boom comes a greater need for housing in the Lakewood area, prompting many to look in neighboring townships.
Toms River resident Michael Dedominicis, who heads the Toms River Strong social media group, said that the opposition to the influx of new residents has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.
Dedominicis said that many locals are concerned that with the influx of Orthodox Jewish residents, Toms River will start to resemble certain areas of Lakewood where multiple families are crammed into single family homes, piles of trash linger at the curb and neglected, overgrown landscaping is commonplace.