July 15, 2024
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SCN Offers ‘Firearms and the Faithful/Private Security Considerations’ Webinar

When you’re involved in maintaining the security of your shul, school or community institution, two things you learn to value are trustworthy expertise and people who plan ahead. On Aug. 25, the Secure Community Network (SCN) provided both in a webinar on “Firearms and the Faithful/Private Security Considerations” that was open to local Jewish community leaders nationwide.

The (SCN), a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, is the official homeland security and safety initiative of the organized Jewish community in North America. SCN was founded in 2004 under the auspices of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. According to its website, SCN works with 146 federations, 50 partner organizations, over 300 independent communities as well as with other partners in the public, private, nonprofit and academic sectors.

The SCN webinar offered many useful tips and tools for Jewish community leaders a month before the Yomim Noraim (High Holidays).

Michael Masters, national director and CEO of SCN, began the webinar by thanking a number of national Jewish groups, such as Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Union, Chabad, Hillel, the Rabbinical Assembly of America, Union for Reform Judaism and others, who participated in SCN’s security consultations, along with federal government agencies including the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. Masters noted, “we are facing the most complex threat environment” in the history of the United States Jewish community. SCN convened two task forces to address firearms in Jewish institutions and hiring private security; this webinar offered a high level view of the reports of both groups.

Bradley Orsini, senior national security advisor of SCN, and Stephanie Viegas, SCN’s deputy national security advisor, presented the major ideas of the two reports. SCN determined that in regard to hiring armed security for an institution, the best practice is to “employ an on-duty or off-duty law enforcement officer or recently retired officer, who continues to maintain relevant certifications and training.”

They stressed that armed security should be part of a comprehensive security plan; the shul or school should have a standing security committee that consults broadly and knows the law; and should consider matters such as the level of training and the cost of armed security. They also stressed that it is vital that the shul or school consult with local law enforcement about their security plans.

They pointed out that, as part of a Jewish community institution’s security plan, they should assess the risk profile of the organization. Factors in this assessment include how prominent the institution is in their community (visibility? level and frequency of activity?), the size of their physical infrastructure, and the impact of current events on the overall threat level (these levels may vary on the national, state and local levels).

Questions to address in considering private security agencies include: what sensitivities the Jewish organization’s members have: can the security group scale up or down if the organization’s needs change: how can the security agency help the organization develop the right infrastructure to support security: and what resources are needed to support ongoing security.

Essential considerations to define a security firm’s “fit” with the Jewish organization include: key performance indicators; desired accountability; uniform preferences; overtime compensation; red flags/references; internal review of the request for proposal (RFP) within the Jewish organization; external review of the RFP (with local law enforcement and other clients); and clear post orders.

The SCN speakers added that it is vital that a security agency have comprehensive insurance to address all liability concerns. They also urged Jewish organizations to look into whether or not a security firm is a local or national provider, what community ties they have, their corporate reputation, and how they manage their security officers.

The SCN leaders also pointed out that “there are no federal guidelines to monitor training” of security firms, so Jewish organizations should ensure that their security agencies follow all state mandates. The security firms should also focus on integrating their Jewish organization’s security procedures.

Following this presentation, the webinar featured a panel discussion with the SCN leaders along with John Cohen, former acting undersecretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security; Shawn Brokos, director for community security at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh; Jeremy Yamin, associate vice president and director of security and operations, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Boston; and Robert Graves, regional security advisor, SCN and Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

In the panel discussion, Brokos noted that congregants have a right to know who is armed in their institution, especially if it’s another member. She said that local law enforcement must be advised of who is armed in a Jewish organization’s facility to prevent “blue on blue” incidents. She added that “well marked” security professionals (easily identifiable as security professionals) can be very helpful to local law enforcement. Yamin seconded this last point, stating that “your security people need to be immediately identifiable in a crisis.”

Yamin suggested that Jewish organization security committees consider the question of “what is sustainable?” before hiring a security firm and devote time to establishing a hierarchy of authority. Cohen stated that if a school or shul is considering letting members show up armed, they must advise local law enforcement.

Graves suggested that each Jewish organization provide its local police department with blueprints of their facility, annotated to show what activities take place where, so the department is familiar with the site.

Finally, Orsini and Brokos noted that local law enforcement agencies are currently struggling to keep their ranks full and encouraged Jewish organizations that are seeking off-duty officers for security work on the holidays to seek them out now. Brokos added that the placement of police department “decoy cars” at Jewish organization facilities can also be very effective.


Harry Glazer welcomes your feedback on this news story or your suggestions of other developments worth covering. He can be reached at [email protected].

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