Morristown Adopts Safe Place Program to Protect LGBTQ Community

By Briana Vannozzi

Rainbow decals in the shape of a badge on Morristown store windows are sending a serious message offering the LGBTQ community protection from hate crimes.

“If someone from the LGBTQ community has an issue or feels like they’re being harassed or bullied they’ll see these signs on these storefronts and they’ll be able to go in there as a safe haven, 911 will be called and that’s where the training comes in from the police department to make sure that all happens,” said Morristown Mayor Timothy Dougherty.

It’s an offshoot from the Safe Place program developed in Seattle aimed at reducing bias and violence for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, using community collaboration. Morristown is the first New Jersey municipality to sign up.

“The purpose of the program and the understanding of the program is that people sometimes feel intimidated by the police, so this program is reaching out and making available the police through a buffer, so to speak,” said Peter Demnitz, Morristown police chief.

Employees at the Morristown Medical Center tipped Demnitz off to safe place. Once a business signs up, Morristown PD will train employees on victim assistance.

“They’re simply trained when someone comes in and says that they’re a victim, or they’re being harassed or bullied, the staff is trained to call 911 immediately, put the person in a safe place and make them feel comfortable until the police arrive,” he said.

“The whole program is intended to create a buffer between the police and the victim and a law office is somewhere where someone might be more comfortable to come forward with a sensitive topic,” said David Heleniak, partner at O’Donnell McCoy and Heleniak.

Incidents of harassment and hate crimes against the LGBT community haven’t been an issue in Morristown. The police chief says this is about setting an example.

“Its a proactive measure, but I feel like it might happen the same way that years ago when we reached out to the domestic violence victims and domestic violence was under reported. I’m hoping that we don’t have any incidents here, but we’ve made it very easy for people to report,” Demnitz said.

“I think it’s wonderful that people should know they have a safe place to go. I mean, everyone deserves, it’s basic human rights that we should all be protected against violence,” said resident Samantha Robinson.

So far 10 businesses are on board, Starbucks was the first. Next up, enlisting the help of Morristown High School students.

“It’s just about protecting all of our community. And as we go forward, obviously with the change in our federal government, some of these issues are more in the forefront, peoples’ civil rights and things of that nature, so this is also part of our community. The LGBTQ community is just as important as anyone else and we protect all equally,” Demnitz said.