Visitors to the municipal building in Harrison can now expect to see an official greeter when they enter the revolving door in the lobby.
No, Town Hall has not been designated an historic landmark (not that we know of, anyway) or tourist destination.
It’s a new security measure, prompted by an order by the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts, dating from 2006, directing municipal courts to upgrade security for all personnel assigned there.
When The Observer asked Hudson County Assignment Judge Peter Bariso Jr. last August how the county was doing with compliance, he said that Kearny and Harrison had failed to pass muster but that he was on the case.
Sure enough, both West Hudson towns have been prodded into action, with Harrison a bit further along than its neighbor.
Harrison Mayor James Fife said the town implemented a new security protocol for its court on March 21, acquiring a metal detector for $5,500, and hiring several “Class 2” officers licensed to carry firearms to check visitors for contraband.
Since the municipal court is located on the building’s lobby level, Fife said it only made sense to use the security apparatus when “checking in” the general public on non-court days as well. In those instances, visitors are asked to sign in and out with a clerical employee, Rose Bennett, stationed at a table just beyond the detector so their movements can be accounted for, the mayor said.
“In the three weeks we’ve been operating, we’ve had only three complaints [from visitors],” Fife said, including one man who came to pay his taxes. All ended up complying, he added.
Last Wednesday, a reporter from The Observer checked out the security system in operation. Visitors are asked to empty any metal objects they may be carrying into trays positioned on a table alongside the detector before walking through it.
If the detector began beeping – as happened in a few cases — retired Essex County Sheriff’s Officer Eddie Hernandez, the Class 2 officer assigned that day, would ask the visitor to empty his/her pockets to account for why the sensor had been activated.
Once that situation was resolved, the visitor was clear to go about his/her business.
Other Class 2 personnel retained to work on a rotation schedule include Roberto Villanueva, a former Harrison cop who left to join North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue, and John Dolaghan (son of former Fire Chief Tom Dolaghan), a former Hudson County Sheriff’s Officer who also became a member of NHRFR. Two other hirings are pending, Fife said. All are paid at a $25 per hour rate. The weapons they carry are issued by the HPD, he said.
Fife said the town was exploring the possibility of getting an X-ray machine, similar to the units used by airport security personnel, to check visitors’ bags, attaché cases, etc.
“We’re also working on getting our employees ID badges and codes for building access points,” he said. “Our police have that already.”
In Kearny, meanwhile, Town Administrator Michael Martello told The Observer last week that a $5,500 purchase order has been put through for a permanently mounted metal detector unit that should be arriving shortly.
For court sessions, held Monday nights and Thursday during the day, visitors will be directed to a “secured entrance” at Town Hall, leading to an elevator that will take them to the top floor where the court chambers are located.
Getting security personnel has been something of an issue, however, Martello said.
“We put out a request for Class 2s last December and again earlier this year,” he said, but there have been no takers.
“The Police Department is going to try to find people and I understand they’ve now got the names of several applicants for the first time,” he said.
The goal is to recruit four Class 2s on a part-time basis to share the duties, Martello said.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.