By JTA/Carolyn Conte
If synagogues hire armed guards, they should be trained police officers, a top Jewish security agency says in a new report.
Armed congregants who are not law enforcement officers “are unlikely to have experience dealing with high-stress situations,” according to the report issued Jan. 15 by the Secure Community Network, the umbrella security agency for Jewish institutions. These congregants “are unlikely to have comprehensive training about when not to use lethal force,” it says.
The report was composed following consultations with a group of law enforcement and security experts in August. It was commissioned in the aftermath of the synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh in October 2018 and Poway, California, six months later.
“It is the Task Force’s view that employing a uniformed police officer is the option most likely to achieve the common goals identified,” the report says. “More broadly, employing an on- or off-duty law enforcement officer or a recently retired officer who continues to maintain relevant certifications and training is the recommended best practice.”
“Security is part of what we do,” said Howard Libit, Baltimore Jewish Council executive director. “The recommendations on the report match the general advice we give institutions for a number of years. Trained armed personnel can bring safety, but that training is really important, in terms of having people carry firearms.
“Every institution has different needs, which is why our director of security will go out and evaluate,” Libit said, “It depends on the nature of the building, the hours, what the leadership wants, and population it serves.”
“It doesn’t have to be black or white; an integrated method is best,” said Tzviel “BK” Blankchtein, former Israel Defense Forces infantry reconnaissance team member and owner/operator of Masada Tactical, LLC, which offers self-defense and gun training. “The arms posted security makes it a bad guy vs. good guy thing.”
He also raised some other considerations, including police officer jurisdiction, conflicts of interest if they need to abandon the synagogue post, and liability for who hires the officer.
“For all those reasons, police officers are definitely a tool and asset but definitely not the best or only tool,” he said. He emphasized training for Pikesville congregants and agrees with Libit that it is an issue which is unique for each congregation.
The report says synagogues must consider a number of factors before deciding to hire armed guards, including cost, legal liability, public perceptions, and the opinions of congregants. It says that hiring armed security needs to be part of a broader plan that includes doing a threat assessment, coordinating with local police, bolstering the building’s physical security, and training clergy and congregants to respond in an emergency.
“It is incomplete to give a blanket statement,” Blankchtein said. “It has to be a custom made.”
“There is no cookie cutter solution,” said Libit.