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State to Deploy License Plate Readers, Security Cameras Across Shore Area; Murphy Downplays Boardwalk Violence

A heavily-armed Seaside Park police officer patrols the area near D Street, where a bomb exploded Saturday morning. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

A heavily-armed Seaside Park police officer patrols the area near D Street, where a bomb exploded in 2016. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Despite controversial comments from Gov. Phil Murphy downplaying serious incidents of juvenile crime on three New Jersey boardwalks over the recent Memorial Day holiday weekend – two of which resulted in declarations of states of emergencies – state officials say they will deploy license plate readers and security cameras to undisclosed locations in the state’s four oceanfront counties as well as security camera trailers during special events.

The “Secure the Shore” initiative is largely aimed at stopping potential terrorist attacks and protecting “soft targets” such as boardwalks – not clamping down on everyday crime – however the equipment used may help in criminal investigations. The program is being led by the state’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

In 2016, the Seaside Park boardwalk was targeted in a terrorist attack that would have detonated an explosive device at a charity run to support the U.S. Marine Corps, however a delay in the race led to the detonation causing no injuries to the public or participants. The perpetrator was caught days later, however the response solidified the idea of boardwalks and other seasonal events becoming targets for terrorist attacks.

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To further assist in the effort this season, NJOHSP has added automated license plate readers (known commonly by their acronym, ALPRs) and mobile security camera trailers to assist with security efforts statewide. There will also be an, “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign statewide to remind visitors closer to their permanent homes to be on the lookout when visiting Shore areas.

The ALPRs will be placed in “highly densely-populated areas along the Shore,” the agency said in a statement. “The devices will capture images of license plates and allow for law enforcement agencies to identify and compare plates against those cars driven by individuals suspected of being involved in illegal activities.”

The state will also deploy mobile security camera trailers to assist with security efforts statewide. The mobile security camera trailers will enhance target-hardening efforts and enable law enforcement to remotely watch venues hosting special events and mass gatherings, the agency said.

The state Department of Transportation will also join the effort by utilizing nearly 200 variable-message signs located along the New Jersey Turnpike and Interstate highways, including I-78, I-195 and I-280, as well as Route 440, to enhance outreach and information sharing efforts. The variable-message signs, including four that will be deployed in high-traffic areas along the coastal region, as well as near venues hosting special events and mass gatherings, will feature rolling messages promoting suspicious activity reporting and remind drivers and pedestrians to be vigilant.

“Our residents and visitors should be able to enjoy the Shore and all it has to offer without fearing for their safety,” said NJOHSP Director Laurie Doran. “The addition of ALPRs and mobile security camera trailers enhances New Jersey’s capability to mitigate threats and prevent potential attacks in areas that are prime targets for terrorism.”

In addition to its most public efforts, NJOHSP compiles a statewide list of special events with mass gatherings for distribution among law enforcement agencies to provide situational awareness. Officials can submit events via the Special Events web page.

New Jersey’s 2024 summer season got off to an unquestionably rocky start, with mobs of juveniles creating chaotic situations on the Seaside Heights, Ocean City and Wildwood boardwalks over Memorial Day weekend. Seaside Heights police made over 100 arrests, a stabbing occurred in Ocean City amidst fights that broke out among groups of teens there, and in Wildwood, the city declared a state of emergency linked to “civil unrest” for similar reasons. Seaside Heights barred juveniles from being unsupervised outdoors after 10 p.m. for most of the weekend as a result.

Questioned by reporters about the troubles amidst progressive juvenile justice reform laws that Shore area police departments have said prevents officers their officers from approaching teens out of fear they themselves may be prosecuted, Murphy downplayed the weekend’s events, and defended his policies, stating that when teens – especially those belonging to minority groups – interact with police or are taken into custody and receive fines, the inability to pay the fines causes them to become more deeply involved in the criminal justice system, resulting in longer-range consequences.

The governor’s latest comments about Shore communities came on News12’s “Ask the Governor” show.

“The shore did not have a chaotic weekend. There were three very serious incidents, but this was overwhelmingly a huge Memorial Day,” he said on the network. “I was in Seaside Heights Friday the day before the incident, Sunday morning after the incident. I can tell you firsthand – it was booming.”

Local lawmakers have become increasingly frustrated with the Murphy administration in recent months, as the governor has more vocally expressed what many view as a cantankerous relationship between Republican-leaning Shore counties and the strongly-progressive Democrat Murphy.

In response to questions over local school de-funding, Murphy said Shore towns should simply close more schools or shut down athletic programs. He also signed into law a bill that could allow schools boards to raise taxes by as much as 9.99 percent without voter approval in communities whose schools have been de-funded by the state – which have been predominantly located in municipalities considered politically-unfriendly to the governor’s party.

As part of the “Secure the Shore” effort, the state Homeland Security agency will collaborate with local officials, develop response plans for various types of incidents and conduct “routine visits” to boardwalks and Shore area businesses. They will also train lifeguards and other beach personnel on identifying suspicious activity.

The agency said it encourages those heading to the Jersey Shore this summer to report any signs of suspicious activity, which could range from surveillance, to trespassing, to individuals testing or probing security.

“Even seemingly insignificant observations can contribute to a larger security puzzle,” the statement said.

The public can make reports to local law enforcement or to NJOHSP’s Counterterrorism Watch Desk by calling 866-4-SAFE-NJ, by emailing or by filling out an online form.

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