By Ron Leir
In the wake of a troubling incident at an Easter Sunday carnival on Passaic Ave., Kearny’s elected officials are considering tightening permit requirements for events held on town property.
Police responded to the carnival held on town-owned land on a complaint from a 15-year-old girl who told officers that she had been groped by a man while she was riding the ferris wheel and that these unwelcome advances continued even after she had repeatedly told the man to stop.
By this time, police said, the man had left but after getting a description and further investigation, police tracked the suspect to his Newark home that night and charged him with criminal sexual contact.
In recounting the incident to members of the Kearny governing body last Tuesday, Police Chief John Dowie said the situation at the carnival site was exacerbated by a “brawl” that developed during the evening in the parking lot of a nearby fast food eatery.
Dowie that “by dusk or thereafter,” the event morphs from a family fun affair to a situation where a lot of people congregate in the parking lot of a nearby fast food business and, potentially, can lend itself to crowd control issues.
A town ordinance (initially passed in 2007 and updated in 2009) that spells out requirements for carnival permit applicants is silent on the matter of providing security at such events, according to Town Clerk Pat Clark.
Mayor Alberto Santos recommended that, in light of the carnival incident, the council take another look at that ordinance and draft a new one that would address the safety of participants at such events.
Santos suggested that the town might want to restrict the hours of the event and set “minimum staffing” requirements for police and/or private security.
Dowie reminded the mayor that for holiday coverage, in particular, it becomes very tough to call in police for voluntary overtime assignments. “You can’t give away the overtime on holidays,” he said.
Later, Santos reaffirmed his position for The Observer, saying, “I’m of the view that, yes, this is a public space we provide permits for the use of and those permit holders should not be creating an unsafe situation, even with providing insurance, whatever the event is, whether it’s a picnic, carnival, etc. Our current ordinance does say that the person or organization granted the permit has to be responsible, leave the space the way they found it, make it safe.
“So we’ll be looking at the lateness of the hours, hiring private guards as possible remedies. However it’s defined, there will be additional requirements regarding security and if, for whatever reason, the permitees cannot satisfy those requirements, then we may be looking at discontinuing permits for these events.”
Providing permits for carnivals, fairs and the like “is definitely a burden on our [the town’s] resources,” Santos said. “The [permit] fee doesn’t cover the real cost for public works crews, traffic control and so forth. Plus if it’s on a holiday, there are overtime expenses.”