After a review of security procedures, meeting of the Brick Township council, planning board of Board of Adjustment (also known as the zoning board) will require attendees to go through a metal detector and security screening table prior to entering the meeting room, and the police presence at the meetings will increase slightly.
The practice was first employed at Tuesday night’s council meeting. Many attendees thought that the practice was being utilized because a controversial topic – the prohibition of recreational marijuana sales – was being discussed, however the introduction of the cannabis ordinance coincidentally occurred the same night the new procedures were to be put in place, said Township Administrator Joanne Bergin.
“We’ve been doing courtroom training and all kinds of security assessments for our municipal building and this was something we were going forward with anyway,” Bergin told Shorebeat on Wednesday.
In recent months, township officials have held a number of sessions with law enforcement on threats to the safety of officials, employees and members of the general public at meetings. When the Brick meeting room is used for court proceedings, a metal detector is used and all those entering the room are subject to a possible security screening of their bags. But the same practice was never employed for public government meetings. Now, the courtroom procedure will be used for council, planning and zoning meetings.
“There will be one police officer in the council chambers and there are [special officers] outside doing the screening,” explained Bergin.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, an extra officer came into the room to ask about the township’s policy on the use of marijuana on township property, given the subject matter of the meeting. Several individuals were smoking marijuana outside the municipal building, though almost all of them had identified themselves as legal medical marijuana patients during the public portion of the meeting.
Cannabis issued aside, the new policy comes after security at public meetings was deemed “woefully inadequate,” Bergin said. Indeed, in the past several years, viral videos have shown violent confrontations at public meetings across the country, including a disturbing shooting at a school board meeting in Florida and a council meeting in Minnesota.
“I think that in ever public building where something like this has occurred, we have seen nationally that it’s very random and it’s always in a town where people think, ‘it’s not going to happen here,'” said Bergin. “We have a responsibility to protect our residents just as we do to protect ourselves. We need to be secure, we need to be diligent and we need to be trained.”
Public facility are “vulnerable targets,” Bergin explained.
“Our schools, our municipal buildings, every level of the workplace should have proper protections in place,” she said.