Big, dumb cop curbs speeders in seaside town--though he never issues tickets

August 18, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

AVON BY THE SEA, N.J. -- Meet Officer Barney.

He works the streets.

About a half-dozen of them, in this tiny seaside burg, where sea gulls outnumber year-round residents.

On a force of only nine full-time officers, Officer Barney has been a vital addition since he hit the streets last month. Even though the other cops think he's a dummy.

And he is.

Seems speeders had gotten out of control. Some were beach-bound, drawn to the surf at a velocity much higher than the 25 mph permitted. Others --ed along the neighborhood streets in a bid to beat bridge openings, which can drag on through 15 minutes of summer heat while flotillas cruise in and out of the Shark River.

Up to 50,000 potential speeders a day pass through this bedeviled Monmouth County community.

They had to be stopped.

Police Chief Joseph Hagerman had seen the ploys of other police departments. Park an empty police cruiser beside a speed strip. Crank up the radar to alarm drivers with Fuzzbusters.

The chief went one better. He called Officer Barney off the bench.

For a decade, Officer Barney's police participation had been limited to softball. Officer Barney -- named for television's bumbling Mayberry deputy, Barney Fife -- had sat alongside softball players of Police Benevolent Association No. 50, which had ordered him up from a Belmar, N.J., doll maker.

The Avon police yanked him off the bench, slapped a police cap on his head and a nickel-gray uniform shirt on his body and put him behind the wheel of one of the borough's three cruisers. (He still wears his gold softball trousers.)

Today, maybe he'll stake out Washington Street, tomorrow Jefferson Street. Or maybe it'll be a living, breathing, ticketing officer. You just never know.

"Now, when you go down the road and you see the police car, you see an image in there, it looks like a police officer," Chief Hagerman said. "It really has cut the speeding down."

To those who would flout the laws of society, Officer Barney is an impressive sight: 6 feet 7 inches tall with size-14 feet.

But to those who make their homes here, his face has a warm familiarity. His mug, with its brown mustache and sideburns, is modeled on a former Avon officer named Edward Kirschenbaum, now an investigator in the county prosecutor's office.

Granted, Officer Barney won't be getting a commendation for responsiveness to citizens. In fact, several neighborhood youngsters panicked recently when Officer Barney didn't respond to their urgent knocks on his window. A child's mother called the police to report an officer in trouble.

But in practice, Chief Hagerman says, Officer Barney is no trouble at all.

"He's one of the cheapest, low-cost patrolmen we have in the department."

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