(January 10, 2020 / JNS) The rise in anti-Semitism and the attacks in Jersey City, N.J., and Monsey, N.Y., were on the minds of U.S. lawmakers during a hearing on the importance of Homeland Security preparedness grants on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
“I can tell you without equivocation that the [Non-Profit Security Grant Program] has placed the nonprofit, faith-based community in a better position to be safe and secure,” said Michael Masters, CEO and national director of the Secure Community Network, the security arms of the Jewish Federation of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, in his testimony before the Committee on Homeland Security.
Masters noted that funding from the grant program for nonprofits has helped Jewish organizations undertake meaningful security assessments; beef up their security by installing various security measures, such as cameras, electronic door locks, panic buttons, etc.; and receive disaster training.
“For organizations that could not support such training prior, this can, literally, be the difference between life and death,” he said.
(In the aftermath of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Pittsburgh, it was learned that the congregation had recently completed active-shooter drills that helped some people escape during the Oct. 27, 2018 attack.)
The hearing, hosted by House of Representatives’ Committee on Homeland Security, discussed budgetary cuts to Federal security grants over the years with members of both sides of political divide stressing the need for more, and not less, funding.
However, as part of the federal appropriations legislation passed last month, Congress increased funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) to $90 million—a 50 percent increase over the $60 million funding in 2019.
The NSGP provides grants of up to $100,000 each to nonprofits at risk of terrorist attacks so they may improve building security by acquiring and installing items ranging from fences, lighting and video surveillance to metal detectors and blast-resistant doors, locks and windows. Funding may also be used to train staff and pay for contracted security personnel.
During prepared remarks, Greg Kierce, director of the Jersey City Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, spoke about the Jersey City terror attack in which two people killed a police detective before barricading themselves in a kosher supermarket. There, they shot and killed three people, including two Jews and a story employee, before they themselves were shot and killed by police.
That attack and the one in Monsey, N.Y., a few weeks later “show how critical the need is here,” he said, adding that cuts in funding of security grants for law enforcement would only undermine local law enforcement. “Simply put, reduced homeland security funding places our nation at risk and minimizes our capacity to mitigate, prepare, respond and recover” from evolving threats.
‘Anti-Semitism coming from a myriad of ideologies and motivators’
John Miller, deputy commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism at the New York City Police Department, spoke about the NYPD’s work and efforts to thwart terror attacks before they happen. He also noted that in response to a rash of bias attacks, including rising anti-Semitism, the NYPD started a new division last month. Since its inception just a few weeks ago, the Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremist Unit, nicknamed REME, has already opened a dozen investigations into hate groups plotting crimes in and around New York, according to Miller.
The deputy commissioner also said in response to a question about the new bail-reform law in New York that it is “going to make the city less safe, not more safe.”
Also addressing the House committee was Michael A. Sprayberry, director of North Carolina Emergency Management at the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency.
When asked what’s fueling the rise in anti-Semitism, Miller said it’s coming “from a myriad of ideologies and motivators.”
He said Jewish communities need to be aware of and prepared for threats from these different groups be it Islamic extremists, white supremacists or others, which makes the need for specific security strategies crafted in cooperation with law enforcement and the implementation of those strategies even more important.
Such efforts, however, can only happen if the funding is available.
Miller noted that while $60 million in nonprofit security grants were offered last year by the Federal government, there were more than $170 million in requests.
“We are pleased that Congress increased the funding to $90 million this year to help bridge this divide. At the same time,” he continued, “we intend to continue to work to make sure more organizations know about these funds, and how to effectively apply and use them. We encourage increases to the program to meet the need.”
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