Security people in every train car. It’s a possibility. The logistics haven’t been worked out — it may not be every car — but Tom Bracken, the CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, made one thing very clear: This year’s Walk to Washington is going to be different.
It’s going to be safer, he told ROI-NJ.
Bracken said he was “sick to my stomach” when he read the Dec. 29 story in The Star-Ledger detailing how women felt they were harassed and, in some cases, groped, on the annual networking trip. It’s why the state chamber has been aggressive in its response, he said.
The chamber’s decision to ban hard alcohol on the train overshadowed all of the other things the chamber is doing, Bracken said. So, he’s making sure they are getting out there, starting with the code of conduct released Monday.
Enhanced security is just one of the chamber’s efforts.
“We always had some form of security on the train, but it was not overly evident,” he said. “We will be enhancing our security dramatically by having many more security people on the train who will be well designated.
“We’re not sure on the specifics — we’re still talking to professional security organizations and to off-duty police. Whoever it is, the people will be identified, and people will know who they are.”
Bracken said there could be one security official per car — and there’s usually 15 or so — or enough to straddle between cars.
“Visualization is a deterrent,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re doing it.”
And if that’s not enough, Bracken said the chamber is ready to do more.
The number for a hotline to report misbehavior will be on everyone’s name badge. Bracken said the chamber knows not everyone will be comfortable approaching a security official. Complaints, he said, will be investigated in real time. And dealt with anonymously.
“We will deal with every instance aggressively,” he said. “We will talk to the people who are supposedly the perpetrators immediately. And, if the people do not comply, we will not allow them to participate anymore on that trip. And there’s a possibility, if it’s egregious, we will ban them from any event going forward. That’s in our code of conduct.”
Bracken said the chamber is determined to make the trip safe for all.
“We still have some logistical details to work out, but the fact that we have enhanced security, the fact that we do have a hotline, the fact that we will deal with things aggressively, will be givens,” he said. “We just have to make sure we work out all the details on that. But we’re trying to make our environment safe.”
Bracken said his hope is that the efforts will go far beyond the train. The chamber, he said, wants to host a series of sexual harassment workshops around the state — perhaps having the first before the train trip.
“We’re not denying that our event provides the opportunity for misbehavior,” he said. “Not at all. I mean, that’s a given. As other events are. This is not limited to two events (the report also singled out the New Jersey League of Municipalities convention).
“We aren’t the root cause of this problem, but we decided right away that we needed to do some things — do as much as we could with what is under our control — to make our event as safe and comfortable and enjoyable as possible for people.”
It’s something he felt the chamber had to do.
“We were very aggressive getting out of the gate on this,” he said. “When I read that article, I was sick to my stomach. The next day, we sat down and said, this is something that needs to be addressed.”