By Maxine Dovere
Not many years ago, the sight of uniformed police officers on patrol near a synagogue was cause for alarm. Times have changed: In 2017, officers stationed at a synagogue’s gateway provide a level of comfort—assurance that all is well inside. In many synagogues, precinct officers often join house security forces to assure that only congregants and “praying guests” enter.
Community leadership and organizations have had to make safety and security a priority. At the Jewish Community Relations Council in New York (JCRC-NY), David Pollock, associate executive director and director of Public Policy and Security, liaises with the NYPD to develop methods to make Jewish and all community institutions safer and more secure.
A bulletin issued by the JCRC-NY provides several general directives to enhance security. The power of planning is stressed; having predetermined, rehearsed response plans in place is essential. A chaotic response to an emergency situation is inefficient and can be dangerous.
To handle “ordinary” emergencies, said Pollock, “plan ahead, establish procedures and have someone in charge to make decisions.”
Access and egress control is key. Systems should be in place to authorize every person entering the building. Accommodating “known” persons while efficiently screening people with appointments or irregular work assignments is a vital first-line protection. The JCRC-NY suggests several methods of interior building control, including limited area access and the use of visible identifiers, such as badges, wristbands or ID cards. The police are an important resource.
“Police are trained to handle emergencies. Build a relationship,” said Pollock. “The local police should be familiar with the building and with the programs and schedules.”
To effectively respond to an emergency or threat, leaders must know what to do. The JCRC-NY offers specific instructions for many types of threats. Leaders must know what type of threat should trigger an evacuation.
Every institution should have a pre-planned response to an “active shooter” alert (which includes not only guns but also knives and other weapons). Have an emergency alert system in place. Panicked parents running towards a school under siege become additional targets. The JCRC-NY suggests establishing notification systems that employ multiple tools: email, text, phone lists, dedicated social media groups, free apps.
Security, done well, must be performed daily and involve everybody. Create a “culture of security.” Everyone should feel responsible for reporting suspicious activity. “If you see something, say something” should be part of the culture of security.
The good guys may not be the only ones watching.
“Be aware of hostile surveillance,” said Pollock.
Call the NYPD at (888) NYC-SAFE; outside NYC, call (866) SAFE-NYS.
Pollock noted that there is a wide range of advisory material available free online. The NYPD offers “Indicators of Terrorist Activity; the Anti- Defamation League (ADL)—at adl.org/security—provides “A Guide to Detecting Surveillance of Jewish Institutions”; and Global Security Risk Management, LLC., offers “Security Awareness” by Paul DeMatteis.
Things change, even in a known setting. Schedule a “regular walkaround.” At least once a day, someone familiar with normal conditions should walk around the inside of the building and its perimeter looking for suspicious objects, items blocking evacuation routes and anything else that just doesn’t look right.
Stay current; security requires continuous training.
Institutions should “sign up for alerts to learn when the local and/or global security threat conditions change,” advises the JCRC-NY.
Sources include JCRC-NY security alerts at jcrcny.org/security; NYPD alerts at https://www.nypdshield.org/public/signup.aspx; emergency alerts from Notify NYC; and your local emergency-management office. Also, be sure to have a weather app on your smartphone to receive warnings about severe weather.
Leadership and staff alike must be prepared; drills, according to Pollock, help people know instinctively what to do, and must be repeated at regular intervals.
Every terrorist attack, anti-Semitic incident or “action” in Israel raises the awareness of communal and lay leaders of the need for more security. A major deterrent to one type of all-too-common attack, “drive through” terrorism, is concrete protective “street furniture.” The late Sally Goodgold, a longtime JCRC-NY board member and lay liaison to the NYPD, was an early proponent, encouraging the installation of “hard” barrier systems near vulnerable targets more than a decade ago. The results of her efforts can be seen at the perimeter of Jewish and other community buildings.
Synagogues and institutions should, by definition, be warm and welcoming. Limited access, obtained only after passing airport-style screening, does little to foster that atmosphere. The challenge is to balance the immediate and potential costs with the immediate dividends of welcome and involvement. Resources do exist. Funding, in the form of grants, is available. While people must feel safe, they must also feel the embrace of their synagogue “home.”
Synagogues and all community institutions have an additional resource in the Community Affairs Bureau’s commanding officer, Chief Joanne Jaffe. The chief has been on the force almost 40 years, and is the highest-ranking uniformed woman in the NYPD. She has held key positions in the NYPD, including command of the 19th Precinct on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the Intelligence Division and the Detective Bureau. Prior to her current assignment, she was involved with planning and policy development.
In an exclusive interview, Chief Jaffe told NYJL that Individual vigilance is essential. She stressed that not only synagogues, but all venues—schools and stadiums, hotels and public spaces—had to be considered possible targets.
Asked how the community could best protect itself from attacks, Jaffe replied that “each individual must be diligent, must be responsible. There is power in one.”
She also noted the long-term cooperation between the NYPD and its Israeli counterparts.
Whether it’s an extra layer of security for a building doorway, the officer on duty while Simchat Torah celebrants dance through the night, or a community celebrating the opening of a new religious facility, the NYPD is there to provide protection.