Monmouth University’s Guardians Club held an on-campus event, inviting Detective Kayla Santiago of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO) to discuss aspects of her job on Wednesday, Sept. 28. She spoke about her work with the county SAFE SPACE Program and her time in the county’s Megan’s Law Unit.
Angelina Esposito, senior criminal justice student and President of the Guardians Club, highlighted how guest speakers enhance the purpose behind the club.
“The purpose of the Guardians Club is to expose students to a wide range of Criminal Justice and Homeland Security careers,” she said. “Most students are only familiar with special agent positions for the federal government; however, there are plenty of other law enforcement opportunities. Meetings are designed as networking events, where a speaker comes in and talks about their career path and current duties.”
Santiago described her role from a program level, elaborating on SAFE SPACE’s function,“SAFE SPACE is a public-private partnership centered on the reporting of bias incidents and hate crimes targeting any protected class of individuals— whether motivated by race, color, religion, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ethnicity.”
Santiago continued, “Through the program, local participating businesses, social organizations, and schools receive brightly colored decals for posting prominently in any entrance area, allowing anyone who spots them to know that the location is a safe environment to call 911 for assistance as a result of being a target of a bias incident or hate crime.”
The MCPO launched the SAFE SPACE program last October. According to Santiago, the program was piloted in Red Bank, Long Branch, and Asbury Park. SAFE SPACE has now expanded to over a dozen municipalities in Monmouth County.
“The SAFE SPACE program was first introduced by the Seattle Police Department in 2015, with more than 7,000 locations across the city participating by 2019. Today, the Department sanctions law enforcement agencies nationwide in replicating the program…MCPO is the 293rd such agency in the US, Canada, or Europe to launch its own version.”
Santiago also works with the county’s Megan’s Law Unit. The unit derives its authority from New Jersey’s Megan’s Law, which was passed in 1994 in response to the sexual assault and murder of a 7-year-old girl in Hamilton Township; the crime was committed by her neighbor, a registered sex offender. At that time, municipalities were not obliged to inform residents of registered sex offenders living in the area. Megan’s Law now requires such notice based on a tiered system.
Santiago explained that assigned detectives to the Unit have various responsibilities to ensure the safety of the community.
She said, “Monmouth County strongly believes that having a dedicated unit responsible for managing them (classification and notification) is a well-established, best practice in law enforcement.”
In addition to her background, Santiago provided attending students with ample career advice. “Law enforcement agencies across the county, including at the county level, are regularly hiring, especially when the on-season summer season begins,” ended Santiago.