LONG BRANCH – A pair of public libraries, a fitness center, a dining hot spot, a synagogue, and a car wash – at first glance, they might not appear to share all that much in common, aside from all being located in Long Branch.

But look a little closer and you’ll see the same rainbow-colored decal prominently displayed at each, sharing the same message: no matter who you are, you’re welcome here. 

Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey was joined by local elected officials, city leaders, local law enforcement, and community representatives on Friday in visiting the inaugural participants in the newly launched SAFE PLACE program, an initiative intended to offer anyone belonging to one of several protected classes of individuals safe, secure locations from which to report bias incidents and/or hate crimes.

“These destinations serve very different purposes, are run by very different people, and serve very different members or clientele – but they’re united by a steadfast commitment toward inclusivity and acceptance,” Linskey said. “We couldn’t be more enthusiastic about their joint pledge to make Long Branch a place where absolutely everyone can feel safe and welcomed.”

The first SAFE PLACE participants include the Long Branch Free Public Library on Broadway, the Elberon Branch Library on Lincoln Avenue, the Gold’s Gym branch in Pier Village, Mix Lounge & Food Bar on Brighton Avenue, Chabad of the Shore on North Ocean Avenue, and Jersey Auto Spa on Joline Avenue.

“On behalf of Mayor John Pallone and the Long Branch City Administration, I would like to thank Prosecutor Lori Linskey for this partnership opportunity. The Department of Public Safety and our Community are excited and committed to the SAFE PLACE initiative,” Long Branch Public Safety Director Domingos A. Saldido said. “A special thank you goes out to all the business partners that have committed their locations as SAFE PLACE locations for our community and visitors alike. The Long Branch Police Division is committed and proud to be part of SAFE PLACE initiative in our City.”

“It is a priority for us to have a safe community,” Mayor Pallone said. “Everyone should always feel like they have a safe place to turn, and we fully support this community effort to look after each other and to report bias incidents and crimes. Public safety will always be number one for our residents.”

“I am grateful to the businesses and organizations that have agreed to show their commitment to inclusivity and acceptance by taking part in the SAFE PLACE program,” added State Senator Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, a resident of Long Branch. “Just by participating and hanging the SAFE PLACE sticker in their windows, they are making a strong statement that they stand united with their neighbors and customers against hate crimes and bias incidents. We create a better society for everyone when we publicly stand up for each other and protect one another.”

Federally protected classes of individuals, as defined by both the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) and various pieces of federal legislation, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, include but are not limited to race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and ethnicity.Through SAFE PLACE, every participating location is given decals for posting prominently in an entrance area, allowing anyone who spots them to know that each location will provide a safe environment to request assistance if they believe they have been the target of a bias incident or hate crime – as well as assurance that representatives of the location and responding police officers will treat the reporting individual with care, dignity, and respect.

New Jersey’s Bias Intimidation statute is applied whenever an underlying criminal offense is determined to have been committed with a “purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals” because one or more of them are members of any of the aforementioned protected classes. The degree of the Bias Intimidation charge is one degree higher than the degree of the most serious underlying charge.

Long Branch isn’t alone in the initial rollout of the program – it is being piloted with the cooperation of the municipal leadership and police departments of Asbury Park and Red Bank as well – yet participation ultimately will be open to all locations countywide. The only requirement for participation is twofold: if a victim of any crime (especially a hate crime) enters the premises, call 911 immediately; and allow the victim to remain on the premises until police arrive.

The SAFE PLACE program was first introduced by the Seattle Police Department in 2015, with more than 7,000 locations across the city participating by 2019. Today, the Department sanctions law enforcement agencies nationwide in replicating the program in their jurisdictions; MCPO is the 293rd such agency in the U.S., Canada, or Europe to launch its own version. Franchise participants have included Starbucks, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase Bank, T-Mobile, and more.

If your business, social organization, religious center, or school is interested in participating in MCPO SAFE PLACE, contact the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office at SafePlace@mcponj.org or your local police department.