NYPD Steps Up Security Around Synagogues

The New York Police Department announced that it has stepped up security around synagogues in the city after four men were killed in a synagogue in Jerusalem three weeks ago. But it’s not clear whether the announcement reflects a real practical change or political window dressing. Sara Aridi reports.

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Statistics show that there is an increase in hate crimes in the city after terrorist attacks happen abroad. But Oren Hiller, the Executive Director of the Mount Sinai Jewish Center in Washington Heights, says the odds are still pretty slim.

HILLER: You hope they’re never gonna happen, but also the chances of them occurring are not….are not great. (0:06)

Hiller says the NYPD’s counterterrorism unit has been calling in and visiting the synagogue three times a day since the November attacks happened. But he says panhandlers are the most common unwanted visitors at the synagogue.

HILLER: Those are the kinds I’m dealing with more often, on a regular basis, then someone, you know, God forbid, coming in with a gun. (0:08)

Over the past few years, there’s actually been a decline in hate crimes against Jewish New Yorkers. Maki Haberfeld is the Chair of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She thinks the NYPD’s announcement may not be about security at all.

HABERFELD: Policing is always political. It’s always influenced by politicians and the deployment tactics are influenced by politicians. It’s never left to the professionals to decide what are the deployment priorities. It’s always left to the politicians to exercise pressure on police commissioners and police chiefs. (0:18)

Haberfeld says the NYPD can’t possibly guard every synagogue in the city. It normally deploys extra officers around the most prominent institutions.
But according to Etzion Neuer of the New York office of the Anti-Defamation League, synagogues haven’t necessarily asked for this protection.

NEUER: It doesn’t always necessarily mean that the community has, that somebody has raised their hand and said we need you to be more visible. It’s that the police have learned to anticipate these needs, do the outreach, and say ‘we’re here for you.’ (0:11)

He says the NYPD works closely with the Anti-Defamation League. It trains officers on hate crimes and extremism and tells them what kind of extremist symbols to look out for. But Neuer says synagogues also need to train their members to keep a watchful eye for suspicious visitors.

NEUER: You know your own institution, you know who belongs, who looks like they belong, and a local police officer might not actually recognize that. (0:09)

Oren Hiller of Mount Sinai Jewish Center says it’s a lot like the “see-something, say something” campaign on the city’s subways. It may be the best way to deal with unexpected threats, even if they’re not that common.

HILLER: You know you have to just really start from the bottom up to try to find ways to prevent things from happening. You need to train your members in order to know how to react to when something happens. (0:11)

The NYPD won’t say how long it’s going to maintain this stepped up security around New York synagogues.

Sara Aridi, Columbia Radio News.

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