TOMS RIVER – The updating of use of force protocols for police, existing police training, addressing racism and better rapport between the law enforcement and the community were among the many subjects touched on during a recent virtual forum.
Various law enforcement representatives addressed community policing, concerns of social justice and police accountability during an online town hall meeting hosted by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
The forum called “Moving Forward: A Conversation on Law Enforcement and Community Policing” also focused on internal affairs investigations. It was streamed live on the evening of July 29 and was sparked by rallies calling for social justice reforms in the wake of the George Floyd Black Lives Matter protests.
Residents were able to submit questions prior to the forum moderated Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer who introduced a large number of speakers during the over two hour session. Billhimer said “this is part of our ongoing series of 21 for 21 community policing projects and the purposes of these programs is to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. This is our first virtual presentation.”
“This dialogue is important the depth of George Floyd in Minneapolis was tragic and criminal in nature. My goal, the attorney general’s goal and all of us in law enforcement is to make sure something like that doesn’t happen here, anywhere in New Jersey or anywhere in the United States,” Billhimer said.
Third Congressional District Rep. Andy Kim was the first to speak and he touched on the recent loss of 17-term Congressman John Lewis who was a civil rights leader.
“In the last few days we said our farewells as a nation and in Congress to my colleague John Lewis. I feel honored and blessed to have served with him for the time that I had. He had the courage to stand up for what he believed in and for justice and equality for our nation,” Kim said.
The congressman added during his last conversation with Lewis, “he reminded me that the whole world was watching the United States right now and we needed to push forward and remain a place that is committed to the fight for justice, for equality, addressing systemic racism.”
“I know through this meeting…we need to show that this is really about service to the community. There is no bill that we can write that will erase the challenges that we face…all of us need to work together,” Kim added.
Billhimer said “the Attorney General in New Jersey is revising our use of force policy. That policy was originally put into place in 1985 and then it was revised in 2000. It really hasn’t changed since the year 2000. It provides standards and guidance for all law enforcement officers as to the amount of force that they can use to compel compliance to an unwilling subject.”
He noted that the Attorney General was looking for public input and guidance and comments made from forums like this across the state.
Ocean County Sheriff Michael Mastronardy said, “Over the last 50 years we’ve seen a lot of changes in policies. We’ve seen policies in domestic violence, notifications, warrants – all these things impact the public safety of the residents. We’ve seen changes in equipment, computers and video cameras. The technology we have now is phenomenal.
“All these things are assisting us and public safety. The thing that hasn’t changed and what I’ve seen is the aspect that is key is the passion to serve,” the Sheriff said. “These young people have the same passion. We have many young people who want to step up to the plate and serve the public.”
He noted that protests in support of equality and opposition to police brutality within the county had been peaceful. “Everyone respected each other’s rights and I think that’s good and I think we are fortunate in this county to have the support of residents. I think that is the key here – we have to respect each other.”
Others on the panel included Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Detectives Joseph F. Mitchel, Retired Police Instructor Ocean County Police Academy Chief William Dikum, Manchester Police Chief Lisa Parker, Toms River Police Chief Mitch Little and Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office representatives Capt. Anthony Carrington, Sgt. Thomas Tiernan, William Scharfenberg, Michael Colwell and Renee T. White.
Rev. William A. Greene of Second Baptist Church of Toms River and Rev. William Simmons the assistant pastor of the Sixth Street Baptist Church of Lakewood and Jasmin Guarin founder of the Junior Community Ambassadors Club Toms River High School South also attended.