Cumberland County, in a move that could be considered in Atlantic City and elsewhere, is moving to restrict parking around its courthouse.
Visitors to the Bridgeton facility will no longer be allowed to park on Fayette Street between Broad and Vine streets starting on or around Aug. 20.
County officials acknowledge the decision, which eliminates 26 parking spaces coveted by people who want to park next to the courthouse, will not be popular. But they said a recent study by the U.S. Marshals Service recommended the action be taken to improve courthouse security.
"We take the U.S. Marshal's recommendations seriously," said Cumberland County Sheriff Robert Austino, whose department is responsible for courthouse security. "We believe these changes will help ensure the safety of everyone who works at, or visits, the courthouse every day."
Cumberland County is not alone in making ongoing security upgrades to county courthouses. Counties are required by state law to make regular security reviews and take whatever action is practical to protect the thousands of people who use the courthouses each year.
The key word is practical.
For instance, like Cumberland County's courthouse, the Atlantic County courthouse in Atlantic City is located in the middle of an urban area.
Security recommendations generally suggest that vehicles not park within 50 feet of a courthouse, Atlantic County Sheriff Frank Balles said. The only thing standing between the Atlantic County courthouse in Atlantic City and parked cars is about a 10-foot sidewalk, he said.
Balles said he and Atlantic County officials are discussing how to minimize the security threat presented by that situation.
"We've made suggestions about concrete barriers to stop people from possibly crashing into the courthouse," he said.
While making the improvements depends in part on cost, Balles said the courthouse has undergone some security upgrades that most people may not realize. There are new security cameras and an upgraded security card system that makes if more difficult for visitors to access off-limits areas of the building, he said.
Other changes are planned, such as finding a more secure parking area for judges who use the building, he said.
In Bridgeton, Cumberland County officials have also made some subtle security upgrades.
For instance, some trees around the courthouse were removed to make surveillance cameras "more effective," Cumberland County Freeholder Chairman Joseph Derella said.
As for the parking situation on Fayette Street, only marked law-enforcement vehicles will be allowed to park there. Those vehicles will be limited to the west side of the street.
The county will put up signs prior to Aug. 20 warning visitors of the planned public parking ban. Violators will be subject to towing and fines once enforcement of the ban begins.
Courthouse visitors can park in the $5.7 million Vine Street parking garage that Cumberland County opened in January. There is another 75-space parking lot at 99 Broad St.
"We expect that some residents might find the new restrictions inconvenient, and we understand," Derella said. "But we're glad that we can take this important security measure and still provide quality nearby parking alternatives."
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