MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Police Department is investigating signs expressing anti-police sentiments that were placed by trespassers on the front lawns of Maplewood Committeemen Greg Lembrich and Vic DeLuca on Aug. 5. The signs, which were painted over existing lawn signs, said “Abolish the auxiliary,” referencing the Maplewood Police Department Police Auxiliary; “Kroll has no place in SOMA,” naming the South Orange Police chief; and “Disarm and disband.”
DeLuca said in a phone interview with the News-Record on Aug. 10 that he was outside his home at 10:30 p.m. the night before and saw the signs early the next morning. He’s been on the Township Committee for 21 years, serving as Maplewood’s mayor for several of them, and no one has ever come onto his property before.
“No one who serves in elected office should have this happen,” DeLuca said. “Their families live there, too. There are boundaries, and people need to respect those boundaries. If people wanted to protest on the sidewalk outside my house, that would be totally appropriate. But when you cross onto my property, that’s an issue.”
The Maplewood Township Committee has had several long conversations about police issues in recent weeks, most notably at its July 21 meeting. At the meeting, the committee voted to further a discussion about disarming the MPD Police Auxiliary, in addition to preventing the use of the unit in the event of an emergency. DeLuca voted in favor of the measure; Lembrich did not. DeLuca also expressed at the meeting that he would like to examine more closely the police department’s budget next year.
“It has everything to do with the police discussions,” DeLuca said.
He and Lembrich were the only elected officials who were targeted; no signs were placed on the lawn of Mayor Frank McGehee, Deputy Mayor Dean Dafis or Committeewoman Nancy Adams. There was also nothing placed at the homes of South Orange’s elected officials.
The Maplewood Township Committee and South Orange Board of Trustees released a joint statement on Aug. 6, saying that the MPD is taking the incident seriously.
“As elected officials of our two towns, we are deeply disappointed by these incidents and join together to address this inappropriate behavior,” the statement read. “While we fully support the rights of all residents to express their views, whether at public meetings, online or through peaceful protest, we condemn any and all behavior designed to threaten, intimidate or harm public officials, their families or their property. No one in our community, public official or otherwise, should be made to feel violated or unsafe in their home.”
The statement also said that while discussion and debate of issues are important, trespassing “crosses the line from activism into criminality.”
Lembrich echoed this sentiment in a phone interview with the News-Record on Aug. 10.
“This kind of action undermines the political point,” he said. “The five of us are accessible. You can email us, we’re on social media, we meet several times a month. It’s not necessary to get our attention this way.”
Lembrich also pointed out that the word “auxiliary” was spelled incorrectly on the signs, and that the signs made specific mentions of Kroll, who works in South Orange and at Columbia High School. Lembrich does not have children who go to CHS and does not have a connection to the school other than it being in Maplewood.
“I don’t think it was the most sophisticated operation,” Lembrich said.
The MPD took the signs that were placed at both homes and are currently investigating, but neither DeLuca nor Lembrich have heard of any developments. They’re not sure they ever will.
“All of us have received a lot of emails,” Lembrich said, about the topic of police brutality and, more specifically, the MPD Police Auxiliary. “This is not surprising on the topic, but it’s the first time someone has ever gone onto one of our properties. Send an email, come to a meeting, protest. But people’s homes should be off-limits.”
Photos Courtesy of Greg Lembrich and Vic DeLuca