After a bomb threat was called in to the Mid-Island Jewish Community Center in Plainview on Feb. 27 — the second to centers of its kind in Nassau County this year — police announced heightened patrols around the county’s religious institutions and have launched a full investigation.
Over the last two months, more than 100 threats — all unfounded — have targeted 81 locations around the country, Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said at a Feb. 28 news conference in Mineola. On Jan. 18, the Barry and Florence Friedberg Jewish Community Center on Neil Court in Oceanside received a bomb threat, which caused staff, guests and members to evacuate.
Over a month later, the Plainview facility became the target. Nothing was found in either case, after police searched the buildings.
“Obviously a threat to any one person’s constitutional right to express freedom of religion is a threat to every citizen here in our county,” County Executive Ed Mangano said at the news conference. “… We have worked and have recognized that we have to do more to combat terrorism.”
Nassau police, in conjunction with the New York City Police Department, New York State Police, Suffolk police and members of the FBI, are investigating the threats, Krumpter said. He added that though he could not say at the time whether the threats across the country are connected, there were similarities between the ones made to the Oceanside and Plainview centers.
On March 3, police arrested Juan Thompson in St. Louis for allegedly making eight threats in January and February against the Anti-Defamation League office in New York, a Jewish history museum in Manhattan, as well as Jewish centers and schools in New York, Michigan, Dallas and San Diego — some in the name of an ex-girlfriend, as a way to harass her, according to court documents.
Intensified patrols at religious institutions, which began in December around the holidays and continued after the threat to the Friedberg JCC in mid-January, will be kept up, Krumpter said. NCPD’s intelligence units contacted all of the roughly 180 Jewish religious institutions in the county after the Oceanside threat, he added, and police planned to visit such facilities more frequently and for longer periods of time.
Krumpter said the increased protection around the county would extend beyond Jewish institutions. “What I encourage everybody to do is go on with their lives, go to their house of worship,” he said, “and let them know that we, as a society, can not be intimidated.”
Arthur Katz, senior ambassador of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Long Island, emphasized at the news conference that increased police presence is just one aspect of combating what Krumpter labeled “fear tactics.”
“You’ll see the patrol cars, but then it’s what you don’t see that also makes a difference,” Katz said. “The police and our community centers and our synagogues have also taken precautions, although you might not see them.”
For example, Krumpter said police would be working to implement the Rave Mobile Safety system — a panic app already used in some county schools — within religious institutions. The app helps users reach law enforcement, first responders and on-site employees during an emergency with one tap on a cell phone. In addition, the system can share information about the affected location, including emergency contacts and surveillance camera feeds.
Joni Center, executive director of Oceanside’s Friedberg JCC, told the Herald last month that the facility is constantly upgrading and evaluating security for every changing situation, but she did not specify measures that the facility had taken since the threat.
In a letter released to the community last week, following the Plainview facility’s evacuation, Center wrote that the Friedberg JCC has been in “constant contact” with local law enforcement as well as the FBI, the Secure Community Network and the Department of Homeland Security.
“Without minimizing the impact or intent of these phone calls, it’s important to remember that the JCC is uniquely prepared to offer a safe and values-driven environment,” Center wrote. “We choose to say no to the intent of a phone call and instead say yes to quality early childhood education, yes to inclusive community wellness, and yes to comprehensive social services.”
In response to the most recent of the five waves of threats to JCCs so far this year, which targeted not only the Plainview facility, but also centers in 11 states — including in Staten Island and Westchester — U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer called on the Federal Communications Commission to allow targeted JCCs to trace call information.
In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Varadaraj Pai on March 1, Schumer cited the agency’s passage of a special waiver last year that allowed the school district in Middletown, N.Y., to access caller information after it received terror threats over the phone.
“These senseless, hateful attacks are unacceptable and should be investigated thoroughly and expediently,” Schumer wrote. “I urge you to do everything in your power to track these perpetrators down and prevent future attacks.”
The FCC granted a temporary emergency waiver for targeted JCCs to trace caller information on March 3.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also announced in a statement last week that his administration is investing $25 million in enhancing safety and security in the state’s religious schools and day care centers.
At the news conference, Rabbi Barry Dov Schwartz connected the threats to Purim, a Jewish holiday, which begins on March 11 this year, that commemorates the saving of Jews from Haman, who planned to assassinate them. “This is not the first time the Jewish community and its institutions have been threatened,” Schwartz said.
Facing cameras and reporters, he added, “I’ll just conclude with one word which expresses our goal, the goal of all of us. That is, Shalom.”