Is City Hall safe?
Council approves measure to add armed, on–duty police officer to meetings
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Jan 20, 2013 | 2189 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The council in Jersey City decided to add an on-duty officer to council chambers after several arguments broke out recently that looked as though they could have turned physical.
The council in Jersey City decided to add an on-duty officer to council chambers after several arguments broke out recently that looked as though they could have turned physical.
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At a time when the nation has turned its attention to school safety in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Conn., the local City Council in Jersey City has quietly approved a measure to require that a police officer be present at its bi-monthly meetings at City Hall.

The measure was approved by a vote of 8 to 1, with Councilman Steven Fulop opposing the ordinance.

“I think this is a good idea,” resident Yvonne Balcer told the council in her public comments in support of the measure. “You all are going to need some more security in here, especially after the [property revaluation] and people start seeing their tax bills. I think you’re going to have some very angry people coming up here and more security is going to be needed.”

Courtesy with consequences

City Hall, at 280 Grove St., has a security guard assigned to the front door who sits next to a metal detector and X-ray scanner for bags.

While the machines are operational, security guards often allow regular visitors to City Hall to walk through the metal detector without scanning the content of their bags on the X-Ray machine. (Bags belonging to a staff writer of the Jersey City Reporter have not been scanned since early 2011.)

“This is the least protected public building I’ve ever been in,” said Councilwoman Viola Richardson.

Security guards may consider it a courtesy to allow City Hall regulars to walk through without going through the full security scan, but such courtesies can come with consequences.
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Security guards may consider it a courtesy to allow City Hall regulars to walk through without going through the full security scan. Such courtesies can come with consequences.
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In 2003, Brooklyn Councilman James Davis, a former member of the New York Police Department, was shot twice and killed by Othniel Askew, a former political rival. The shooting took place right inside New York’s City Hall in lower Manhattan.

Askew was able to shoot Davis with a .40 caliber handgun after the two men entered City Hall together. As a City Councilman, Davis was not required to pass through the metal detector and security checkpoint set up in City Hall after 9/11. Since Askew walked in with Davis and was a guest of the councilman, he was not required to pass through the checkpoint, either.

Askew was shot and killed by an armed police officer assigned to City Hall.

City Hall buildings elsewhere in Hudson County are perhaps even more vulnerable than Jersey City’s.

Members of the public can freely enter City Hall buildings in Union City, Hoboken, Secaucus, and elsewhere. (Most of these cities take special steps to beef up security outside their municipal courtrooms, however.)

Raucous council meetings?

The council in Jersey City decided to add the on-duty officer to council chambers after several arguments that broke out recently looked as though they could have turned physical.

In one incident, local restaurant owner Tom Parisi confronted Idalia Rosa, whose father lives near Parisi’s Brightside Tavern, after she spoke out in opposition to an ordinance that would have allowed him to have live entertainment without a variance.

One two occasions, a downtown activist and Fulop supporter has tangled with activist Esther Wintner after she has made pointed comments about Fulop.

Most recently Fulop and city attorney William Matsikoudis engaged in a yelling match after the councilman questioned Matsikoudis’ legal judgment.

As entertaining as these confrontations can sometimes be, there is a concern that they could turn physical or violent, particularly as the May 2013 mayoral race between Fulop and Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy approaches. The long-anticipated race between the two men is expected to be contentious and has already threatened to divide the city into pro-Healy and pro-Fulop camps. Given this backdrop, some council members believe assigning a police officer to the council chambers during meetings of the governing body is a good idea.

Ironically, however, Fulop, who has often been the flashpoint of some of the recent incidents, disagrees.

“We know that crime is an issue many people are concerned about and there has been a desire to see more cops on the streets, and I think that’s where they belong, on the streets,’ Fulop said, explaining why he voted against the measure to have an on-duty officer present at City Council meetings. “I don’t think we should be paying a police officer to protect the nine members of the council.”

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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