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Editorial: How Jackson Can Strengthen No Knock Laws and Still be a Good Neighbor

Jackson Township, like our neighbors in Howell, Brick and Toms River is experiencing a real estate market boom.   That boom is driving the prices of homes upward in the eastern portion of Jackson, but it is also creating a real estate frenzy.

That frenzy is driven by realtors in Lakewood with buyers waiting to buy homes in Jackson to escape the overcrowding of that town, but there aren’t enough homes on the market in Jackson for them to buy.

It has essentially become a gold rush type scenario with many flocking to cash in on the real estate transactions to be had.

Like most “rush” periods in American history, it’s not only the seasoned and respected professional looking to make a profit.

Some have engaged in very aggressive sales tactics to persuade existing homeowners to sell.  In some cases, it has been reported that those aggressive tactics turned into intimidation and harassment.

In recent months, residents in Jackson have lined up at town hall to ask the township to amend and enforce existing no-knock ordinances, but no real remedy has been offered by the township government.  Many took aim at the Lakewood based realtors, calling for their banishment.

They failed to take a step back to see why no-knock ordinances in Ocean County came to be in the early part of this century.

In Toms River, the town which has the most comprehensive no-knock stance, the ordinance was initially developed out of public safety after a grisly murder, not out of nuisance or to satisfy the angry mobs.

On June 9, 2004, Azriel Bridge, a 17 year old from Chicago was transported by van with other inner city teens and dropped off in Toms River for the purpose of selling magazine subscriptions.    The company did not notify the township, it just sent these kids to walk the middle-class neighborhoods of then Dover Township.

Bridge faced rejection and sold few subscriptions.   At the time, I lived in Toms River and Bridge even knocked on my door.    He asked me if I wanted to buy a magazine subscription, I told him no thank you and closed the door.  As I closed the door he stuck his foot in the door and said, “How do you know you don’t want to if you don’t know what they are?”  I politely told him to remove his foot from the door and wished him luck in his journey.    Something wasn’t right, but at the time, nobody thought twice. He was dismissed by me and other neighbors as an aggressive teen trying to make a buck.

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Seven doors down from my house, Bridge found a kind woman who said no to his sales offer, but she invited him into her home to use her bathroom and offered him a drink of water.   That was the last thing Shirley Reuter; the organist for Holy Cross Lutheran Church would ever do in her life.

Bridge brutally murdered her.

In court,  he confessed, saying he was selling magazines, when Shirley Reuter allowed him to enter her home to use the bathroom. While he was in the house, Bridge saw a checkbook on a table and decided to put it in his pocket.

However, the Reuter noticed him put something in his pocket and she confronted him about it.

As Ms. Reuter reached for the checkbook, Bridge said he pushed her hard enough that “her feet actually came out from underneath her,” and as she fell, she hit her head on the corner of a table.

As she lay on the floor, Bridge struck her three times “on the side of her face” with a “paddle” from the fireplace to “wake her up.” After the paddle broke, defendant used a poker from the fireplace “to poke her to see [if she would] wake up.” When she did not wake up, he put the bloody poker “back where it was,” and he got a knife from the kitchen, which he used to “poke” her in the neck. Bridge said Reuter’s body quivered “when the knife went through her throat.”

A few months later, Toms River issued a no-knock ordinance.  Not to keep Lakewood salesmen from interrupting a Sunday dinner, but to regulate who is soliciting door-to-door in their neighborhoods.

Real Estate agents aren’t the only aggressive sales agents in Jackson going door to door.  Cable companies, solar companies, frozen food distributors, furniture liquidators and many others can be seen on any given day in town, most without canvassing permits.

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Jackson Township needs to protect residents not only from the nuisance, but for safety reasons.  Unmarked box trucks from southern states peddle furniture and food.   Unmarked white vans peddle solar alternatives.   Who are these people?  What is their intent?  Are they legitimate solicitors?

Jackson Township needs to better enforce and strengthen our existing no-knock ordinance, but unlike Howell, Toms River and Brick, we need not target any individuals.

The other thing the township needs to do is to require anyone applying for a canvassing permit to pay for and submit a criminal background check from one of the many local FBI certified vendors to the township or police department for review for each individual that will be named in the canvassing permits.

The ordinance should explain which prior convictions would bar a solicitor from being approved.   Crimes such as sexual assault, Megan’s Law list, violations, fraudulent financial crimes, burglary and other related convictions should invalidate the solicitor from obtaining a permit. This language and these conditions should be clearly identified in the township ordinance.

Door to door solicitors should be required by ordinance to maintain an accurate log that details the name of the solicitor, time of day and streets solicited for any given period.   They should have to pay a fee for the permit that should be raised to accommodate the new costs and the cost of township provided ID card, to be given to the solicitor to identify themselves as a township authorized solicitor with a permit.  This way when residents look through their window and look at the solicitor’s credentials, they know what a legitimate ID/Permit looks like instead of trying to decipher the various corporate created identification currently provided.  They should have to wear that ID on a lanyard in clear site while canvassing.

When residents call the police department to complain about solicitors, police officers should be empowered by this ordinance to require the solicitor to show their township issued ID badge and to inspect their logs.    These logs should be required to be given to the township and the police department by canvassers in a monthly report so police investigators can cross reference them should they coincide with vandalism, break-ins or other nefarious activities.

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Enforcement of our no-knock ordinance should be a dual role by the code officer and police department.  If a police officer, usually the first responder on those calls, investigates a complaint in a neighborhood and finds probable cause that the solicitor violated the ordinance or is engaged in otherwise nefarious activity, they should have the power to give them a verbal warning and to advise them that if they continue their disruptive behavior, they can receive a summons under the power of the ordinance.  If complaints keep coming in, the police officer or code officer should issue a summons.  Being found guilty in court on that summons would also revoke the person’s privilege to canvass in Jackson for a determined period of time.

Those found canvassing without a permit or ID should be afforded the same courtesy with a warning to cease and then a summons under the power of the ordinance.

Additionally, the township should devise two cease and desist ordinances for all solicitors across all industries, not just real estate.  The first being a neighborhood cease and desist clause  if it is found that a particular neighborhood is being overburdened by a sheer volume of complaints and incidents.  The second should be an agency cease and desist ordinance which pertains only to the violating businesses.

The targeting of Lakewood real estate agents is not only unfair, probably illegal and most likely a violation of their civil rights, but it is not a good direction for the township to go in.  It’s a battle the township cannot afford in a future lawsuit and it’s another blemish we can’t afford as a community.

The township needs to enhance their no-knock ordinance and strengthen it in way that balances a person’s right to civil liberties and the town’s right to maintain the peace and order.

Phil Stilton is the editor JTOWN Magazine, Jackson’s Community & Family Magazine, TR Magazine and The Shore News Network.

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