Ocean County now has the game-changing Special Needs Registry that will help law enforcement, firefighters, and ems interact and work with members of our community who may be in need of special assistance at and on certain calls.

It's a collaborative effort putting together and now running the registry between the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, Ocean County Sheriff's Office, and Ocean County Police Chiefs Association.

This registry has also been a focal point of Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer to implement it into our communities.

"The Ocean County Special Needs Registry is something near and dear to my heart," Billhimer tells Townsquare Media News. "It's something that we've worked on launching now, and we went live effectively on March 1 but it took all of the resources we had within the Chiefs Association, the Sheriff's Office, and the Prosecutors Office. Sgt. (Melissa) Rose did a lot of the leg work, and a lot of the work to get this over the finish line."

This is a utilitarian type of program with multiple agencies involved with a focus on improving arrivals, responses, and communications on a variety of calls and situations.

"What I think it really accomplishes is, is helping law enforcement and helping the community really protect our most vulnerable members. I think it's important any time we have interaction with the public, from a law enforcement perspective, the more we know going into that interaction, I think it's better for the officer and for the person on the other side of that interaction," Billhimer said.

It's a voluntary program for anyone who lives and works in Ocean County, offered through the OCSNR website where you can register.

"Then the local municipalities, the Sheriff's Office, and our office will obviously know about the special needs of that person should we respond to the home or in a motor vehicle stop, or any type of situation," Billhimer said. "That knowledge is critical, and I think it's going to lead to better interactions with law enforcement and the communities they serve."

The communication and change in approach on these types of calls is something that will help all involved in a given situation.

"We want them to have that better approach," OCPO Sgt. Melissa Rose tells Townsquare Media News.

Sgt. Rose explains that it's going to help with police response by officers, "having this bit of information knowing that they're not just responding to a crisis call, but that there's another aspect to the call, somebody that has special needs, they can just respond appropriately, they can give them the services that they need."

Communication is key in so many, if not all aspects of our daily lives and it can play a key and critical role in a police response as well for law enforcement and for members of the community.

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When you sign-up on the OCSNR website, you'll be able to interact with an officer during the setup phase.

"Aside from the website being created for people to register, every department has also designated a special needs registry liaison because what we want for people who register is to have that personal touch and communication, and know who they can talk to if they do have a problem," Rose said.

The registry and specifically the liaison, who is a trained police officer, will allow you to update information, pictures, and discuss any concerns or positives on how any interaction with police went.

"We understand that this is in place but this is only going to be level one, we want it to keep taking it to progressing and bettering our relationship with the community," Rose said.

As part of signing up for the registry, you'll have the option to receive a special decal to put on the window of your vehicle.

"Electricity can go out, power can go out, these decals are going to ensure that whatever obstacles are there, an officer has the best opportunity to understand if they're pulling over a vehicle, stopping a vehicle, or assisting a vehicle responding to a home that needs some extra attention," Rose said.

The Ocean County Special Needs Registry is a multi-faceted response initiative aimed to help in much more than just responding to a crime and with the liaison specifically, there will be a follow-up to a response but it doesn't mean you're in trouble.

"To be clear, a following up with our liaison is not a knock on the door," Rose said. "It's a phone call just to say 'hey, my name is...and I'm here for you'."

This isn't the first Special Needs Registry at the Jersey Shore or in New Jersey, but still among the first.

"I think we're about the 4th County in the State to get this accomplished because it's a massive undertaking in terms of building a website, getting the county to assist us in that and I do want to thank the Ocean County Commissioners, the Ocean County IT Department -- they really were instrumental in working through all the problems on the website to make sure that everything worked," Billhimer said.

You can hear more from Prosecutor Billhimer and Sgt. Rose right here:

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The Special Needs Registry has shown how effective it can be in the last few years at the Jersey Shore alone.

In April of 2016, the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office under then Acting MC Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni and Monmouth County Sheriff's Office under Sheriff Shaun Golden unveiled the SNR in Monmouth County where several hundred officers were trained and briefed on implementing the program in their communities.

There was one particular case in recent memory where this program made a huge difference in September of 2021 in Spring Lake Heights, where police helped keep a special needs child calm following an accident.

In May of 2017, the Stafford Township Police Department in Ocean County unveiled their own SNR program for their community, which was also the first such program in Ocean County.

In July of 2021, Manchester and Lakehurst Police joined together to form a similar program to SNR called "Operation Insight" to help in responding to calls with a special needs resident.

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