STAFFORD TOWNSHIP— Sandy Goldsborough and her husband moved to the Ocean Acres section of the township from Manhattan to find solace in the suburbs. For the couple, the Ocean Acres neighborhood was the epitome of the American Dream, right down to the white picket fence.
Things have changed, however, in the 12 years since they moved here.
Last month, Goldsborough was taking her dog for a walk when she came upon a drug bust, complete with black, unmarked cars filling the streets and an officer in a bulletproof vest.
“It was scary to see that it was happening that close to my home,” she said.
The arrest was just one of several to shake this middle-class neighborhood. In January, a doctor was arrested on drug, weapons and money laundering charges, following an investigation in which police allege that he was unlawfully distributing prescription drugs Percocet and Xanax from his medical office in Ocean Acres on Beacon Avenue.
Ocean Acres, a sprawling subdivision that has led Ocean County’s development boom for decades, is so big that it’s counted as its own census tract. So it shouldn’t be surprising that an explosion in heroin use in New Jersey would be, well ... bigger here, too. But the arrests only underscore what is becoming a national dilemma, the abuse of prescription drugs and cheap heroin, officials say.
Matt Reskin, executive director of National Association of Town Watch and the founder of National Night Out, said with an uptick of illegal drug activity other crimes such as burglaries are plaguing communities across the nation.
Reskin said because of a need to feed an addiction, communities are seeing drug users committing burglaries at riskier hours between 5 and 8 p.m. Burglars watch and wait for families to leave their home, they they break in and take what they want, he said.
“What we try to tell the public as an organization is you’re not bothering the police. If you see something call it in because that’s the only way we’re going to stop this,” he said.
Ocean Acres is a maze of streets with nautical names lined with single-family homes complete with minivans and swing sets. The development boom in the subdivision made the municipality one of the fastest-growing towns in New Jersey when development started over 35years ago; the area exploded into a 5,500-lot community.
The U.S. Census showed that the township’s population more than doubled from 1990 to 2009, from 13,325 to 26,818 and now is holding at 26,493. Officials have said that the Ocean Acres section is all but built now, and that the boom is over.
“It’s the highest population concentration in the township and we have over 5,000 homes there. I don’t think (the recent crime is) an Ocean Acres problem. I think it’s the volume of people in the area,” said Stafford police Capt. Thomas Dellane.
To investigate and attempt to battle this threat, police have three officers assigned to the township’s Drug Enforcement Unit and one officer to the Special Operations Group through the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
Marjie Coppola, president of the Ocean Acres Civic Association, said she is not surprised that drugs are a problem in her community because heroin is a problem across Ocean County. The county saw 112 drug overdose deaths last year, compared to 53 in 2012.
Coppola said she chose to live in Ocean Acres after her daughter moved to the area, but now, she said, it’s a very scary situation to think about heroin being next door.
“It used to be, ‘Ocean Acres is perfect,’ but the problem is here now, and once it’s here, it’s here,” she said.
Stafford Township police Chief Joseph Giberson said the only way authorities can successfully fight the heroin and drug epidemic in the township is by forming a partnership.
“I think everyone needs to be of the mindset that it could be next door to them. People should think prescription drugs could be next door and you don’t know. We want the public to know that we are out in front of this,” said Giberson.
Giberson said the township’s police tip line is one way the public can help, but residents need “to get past that fear and call us if they see something suspicious.”