A security update from CSA President David Assis
What could be more important than the safety and security of the thousands of people who enter our synagogues, our schools, and other community buildings? As a community, hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in our infrastructure, and these buildings – and the people who use them – must be protected.
All around the community, extra cameras are being installed and guard protection increased. Locks are being changed, and entry doors to facilities are being more carefully monitored and limited. The security of the 10,000 students attending yeshivot in our community is a major concern.
Community Security Alliance (CSA) was created to ensure the security and the safety of our community’s institutions through a thorough, carefully designed and coordinated plan of actions and protocols. CSA has developed a community-wide proactive plan that will provide oversight, training, supervision, and professional security applications for all our Sephardic community buildings. CSA is committed to proactive planning, training, and supervision to avert potential tragedy.
During the past five years, CSA has been instrumental in helping the 24 buildings under its auspices to receive over $4 million in federal grant funding from the Department of Homeland Security.
In 2019, a few dedicated men from Shaare Zion took the initiative and trained fellow community volunteers to stand outside the synagogue and screen each person upon entering the shul. With extensive training by a third party company, the volunteers learned how to spot suspicious activity and behavior and how to respond accordingly if action is needed. There are currently five additional community synagogues that have joined and emulated Shaare Zion’s security measures.
Introducing CSA President David Assis
At the helm of CSA is President David Assis. David is passionate and deeply committed to community security. Besides being a member of Flatbush Shomrim, David is our community’s liaison with CSS (Community Security Service), the Ashkenazi organization that helps train synagogues nationwide to protect themselves against terrorist threats. David is also a registered Homeland Security officer and is in charge of security at Shaare Zion.
In light of the recent rash of anti-Semitic attacks, Community Magazine reached out to David Assis to see what more can be done to keep our community neighborhoods and institutions safe and secure.
CM: What can we do as community members?
DA: We have been working with NYPD to increase patrols because police presence is a deterrent. We cannot put our guard down at any time. Some of our buildings are more exposed than others. As a community, we must take the initiative to do something about it. Every institution is obligated to safeguard its congregants, or the people going in and out of their buildings.
The police cannot be everywhere all the time. We always have our community members everywhere. It is imperative that if someone sees anything suspicious or out of place, that they report it to the police. If a person walks on a particular street regularly, and sees something not right, then he or she must alert the police.
All anti-Semitic attacks start with a planning stage. Planning is when people walk by, take photos, or get information online about the target. An attack does not come as a last-minute decision. It starts with planning surveillance by going through the area. So if you see something that does not look right, report it to 911 or Flatbush Shomrim (718 338-9797). Don’t brush it off. We cannot be asleep if we want to protect our area and our community.
We cannot limit our activities due to fear, so it is very important that we continue our day to day lives and not alter our lifestyle. If we alter our lifestyle, then we become victims of terrorism.
When you go anywhere, be aware of your surroundings. Suspicious activity can be a person walking up and down the block. Or a car parked in front of a school to do surveillance. Usually the attacker is not the same person who does the surveillance. If you feel something is out of place, then report it to 911. They have a counter terrorism unit and professionals who deal with threats every day. While sometimes it might take a few minutes for a patrol car to come by, you can also contact Flatbush Shomrim.
I am putting together a dream team for CSA to cover all our goals (grants, security, training, hardware and software logistics, social media, and so much more.) to assist in making sure that our community members will not have to alter their lives because of terror.
CSA has received feedback that people feel they don’t want to be bothered with police reporting. However, reporting activity to police is used to help the facilities where action was reported to apply for and receive grant funding. It is imperative that suspicious activity be reported.
CM: What about profiling?
DA: Unfortunately, there is no one profile anymore, as we saw in the last few incidents. Authorities never expected some of the profiles that they have seen.
We tend to think of a terrorist as someone who is a Neo-Nazi or of Middle Eastern descent, but it can be anyone. We are not racial profiling. We are profiling behavior. It can be a person in the community who has a mental health problem. Do not look for one or two types of people. Be alert and report anything suspicious to authorities.
CM: What is CSA and what are they doing?
DA: CSA is the security umbrella for the entire community and has over 25 buildings under its auspices. CSA has primarily worked with risk assessments and building enhancements. In the past four years, CSA has helped its member institutions receive over $4 million in grants from the US Department of Homeland Security as well as many state grants. CSA has provided training for volunteers who attend our synagogues.
Our plans have been enhanced and now include bringing NYPD officers to guard our buildings, radio communications among the facilities to ensure that if something happens in one building, surrounding buildings are alerted. CSA is also working with the institutions on applying for more funding for building enhancements, guards, and guard training. We have to fundraise. We need policies and procedures in place to evacuate or lock down a building. We have a lot of work to do!
During the last few months our community’s social media was bombarded with on overload of information about terror and crime in our area and most were just not true or embellished. This created a panic in our community. CSA will be the source of information and will only report verified information on social media to better assist and alert our community and be the trusted source for credible and verifiable information, which can be used to guide the people.
Volunteer-based initiatives have been effective worldwide. One of the most important parts of the CSA plan is the recruitment of teams of volunteers who will be trained to prevent incidents. CSA is training volunteers to protect and prevent incidents at their respective buildings. It is these volunteers who know the facilities, know the fellow congregants, and have a vested interest in protecting their families and friends. To become a trained security volunteer at your synagogue, visit csalive.org/volunteer.
More information about CSA can be found at csalive.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community member Sarina Roffé is Executive Director of Community Security Alliance. She also consults with nonprofit organizations in the community.