LONG BRANCH — An anti-hate program that officials hope to see expanded statewide is now up and running in select spots throughout Monmouth County.

Residents and visitors will notice a little more color in the windows of a handful of businesses and organizations that are the first to participate in the Safe Place program launched by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office.

Through the program, originally announced by MCPO in October, sites prominently display a rainbow-colored decal that indicates that they will serve as a secure location for anyone who needs assistance because they believe they have been the target of a bias incident or hate crime.

"Participating businesses and organizations are sending a message that they will provide safe haven to the individual until the authorities arrive, no questions asked," Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Lori Linskey told New Jersey 101.5. "It is truly a wonderful public-private partnership in terms of sending a message that acceptance and inclusivity eclipse hate."

The decals themselves mirror New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination, noting that protections are afforded for bias crimes and incidents related to race, color, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, national origin or ethnicity, Linksey said.

On Friday, Linskey and others visited the program's inaugural participants in Long Branch — Long Branch Free Public Library, the Elberon Branch Library, Gold's Gym in Pier Village, Mix Lounge & Food Bar, Chabad of the Shore, and Jersey Auto Spa Car Wash & Detail Center.

The program is being piloted in Asbury Park and Red Bank as well.

Safe Place decal on display at Jersey Auto Spa Car Wash & Detail Center in Long Branch
Safe Place decal on display at Jersey Auto Spa Car Wash & Detail Center in Long Branch
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"I hope more people jump on board. I think it's super important to support this," said DawnMarie Lopes, owner of Jersey Auto Spa.

Anyone who may use the car wash as a "safe place," Lopes added, can also rest assured that no one working at the facility will judge or discriminate against them.

"I've asked people to leave because I heard them make racial slurs," Lopes said. "I don't need that kind of business."

Select municipalities outside of Monmouth County, including Morristown and Highland Park, also run a Safe Place initiative. The idea was first introduced in Seattle, Washington in 2015 — by 2019, more than 7,000 locations across the city were participating.

"Our hope is that we're going to be rolling it out to the rest of the county very soon," Linskey said. "And I would love to see this go statewide."

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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