Securing Schools & Synagogues
Local security leaders ‘at a state of readiness’ following school, church shootings.
When a gunman armed with a semiautomatic AR-15 assault rifle shot and killed 17 people and wounded 14 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, Gary Sikorski, director of community-wide security for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, watched events unfold through the lens of someone who has dedicated his life and career to public safety. Sikorski was deputy chief of the Westland Police Department for nearly 26 years before he took on the role of developing, implementing and maintaining security processes, practices and policies for Federation and more than a dozen partner agencies.
“Sadly, tragedies like this remind us why we do what we do,” Sikorski said. “We are always at a state of readiness.”
Since Sikorski joined Federation in 2008, various measures have been implemented, including the addition of personnel, equipment, cameras, access controls (requiring people to be buzzed in to buildings), training, drills and more. In its 2016-2017 annual report, Federation provided an overview of community security initiatives saying security has become a “growing concern.” The report goes on to say, “Jewish institutions generally are targeted more frequently for hate crimes than any other group.”
The report outlines the following steps taken at Jewish community campuses and day schools, including Farber Hebrew Day School, Frankel Jewish Academy, Hillel Day School, Yeshiva Beth Yehudah, Yeshiva Gedolah and Yeshivas Darchei Torah:
“The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit started its community security program in 2006, creating a presence at the Jewish community campuses in West Bloomfield and Oak Park,” the annual report states. “The Federation adopted a three-point plan, which increased training and communication about security for children, faculty and parents at all Jewish day schools; approved a series of grants to pay for equipment and technology; and hired and deployed armed security officers at each of the day schools and at Tamarack Camps.”
Sikorski says the Detroit Federation and three others are beta testing a new report/incident management system similar to the system police officers use. It enables security leaders to more quickly and easily share information about suspects who may be moving from city to city. The system could be implemented nationwide.
“We’re always looking to reassess what we’re doing and how we’re doing things,” Sikorski says. “We monitor and make adjustments accordingly.”
SECURITY LEADERS GATHER
Just four days before the Florida school shooting, Sikorski joined dozens of security leaders from different faith-based groups at Second Ebenezer Church in Detroit for a crisis training seminar sponsored by the Security Leaders Coalition. Founded in 2015, the nonprofit organization consists of more than 50 churches, synagogues and others across southeast Michigan. The group’s mission is to promote information sharing, training and networking opportunities with law enforcement, first responders and security professionals.
“It’s a way for us to learn from each other,” says Jerry Eizen, security head for Young Israel of Oak Park. He joined the coalition in November 2017. “It’s sad that it’s needed anywhere — whether it’s a house of worship or a school or office building — but the fact is, it’s needed.”
Participants heard from two keynote speakers, Carl Chinn of Colorado and Brian Webb of Atlanta. In 1996, Chinn was held hostage by a gunman at Focus on the Family church in Colorado. About a decade later, he was a first responder during a deadly shooting at New Life Church in Colorado. He spoke about his firsthand experiences and lessons learned. Webb instructs domestic and foreign governments, international corporations and others on crisis management and disaster planning. Participants received a response plan template to customize for their own use.
“We are sickened by the headlines and the endless heartbreak,” says Ray Washington, a spokesperson for the Security Leaders Coalition. “No one wants to think it could happen to them or someone they know and love, but the sad truth is, it can.”
So, what can a synagogue member, a parent, or any member of the community do? Sikorski says the familiar expression, “if you see something, say something” still applies.
“Be aware of your surroundings and don’t be afraid to speak up,” he says. “If you see something that might be out of place or unusual, whether it’s a person or a package or a door ajar — don’t brush it off like it’s nothing. It’s OK to be wrong. Law enforcement and security professionals want you to report something that doesn’t seem right.”
Along with “say” something, he says people should also “do” something.
“Get CPR/AED-certified. Attend a free Department of Homeland Security ‘Stop The Bleed’ training program,” Sikorski adds. “Our goal is to have a community of ‘first responders.’”