Town residents who attended the March 23 public meeting at Town Hall on Plandome Road in Manhasset walked away with useful information regarding how to keep their communities safe from hate crimes, as well as a sense of reassurance that police and elected officials have a thorough and responsive system in place to maximize our safety and security.
The meeting was planned by Councilwoman Anna M. Kaplan, a resident of Great Neck, which is home to a large Jewish community and dozens of religious institutions. In recent months, Kaplan’s office has received many calls from alarmed residents about bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) across the country. During that time, the Anti-Defamation League and the New York Police Department had reported a dramatic spike in hate crimes that include bias crimes not only against Jews, but also against blacks and minorities, including Muslims.
In response to her constituents’ concerns, Kaplan organized the meeting to bring together members of the community with police and elected officials, including Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth, Councilwoman Lee R. Seeman and Nassau County Legislator Ellen W. Birnbaum.
The discussion was led by Inspector Daniel P. Flanagan of the Nassau County Police Department’s Third Precinct, along with members of the Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) unit, Officer Daniel Hedgecock and Officer Henry Krukowski, who described the many safety measures in place throughout Nassau County to protect schools and religious institutions.
“We have 24 cars in the Sixth Precinct and 25 cars in the Third Precinct,” noted Flanagan. “Since the bomb threats against JCCs were reported, we have increased patrols throughout the county, especially near synagogues and schools. The POP officers solve problems and follow through over the course of days and weeks, as long as necessary.”
He explained that the Nassau County Police Department has always been on the “cutting edge” of fighting hate crimes, and has had a dedicated Bias Crimes Unit since the 1980s, which was one of the first units of its kind in the world. In fact, officers from Nassau County are asked to share their expertise with police departments all over the world. Local officers recently traveled to Australia to train police.
The police officers patiently and thoroughly answered questions from the audience, which was filled with concerned residents, including members of area synagogues and schools, such as Temple Beth-El and Temple Israel of Great Neck, Lake Success Jewish Center, Chabad of Port Washington and Silverstein Hebrew Academy.
“If you see something, say something,” was the advice given, along with, “Be vigilant, and report any suspicions by immediately calling 911.”
The officers urged attendees to take advantage of the personalized safety surveys they offered, where two officers go to a temple or school for several hours for an individualized walk through. They then issue a formal written report of recommendations and safety concerns.
“Each year, we meet with Jewish leaders in Great Neck to go over the calendar and to make sure that we have extra coverage during major holidays and events,” said the police officers. “We increase patrols, and we set up a special hotline so that we can respond as quickly as possible. We also have systems in place with the public and private schools to instantly share information in the event of an emergency, such as lockdown. We can assist you with a lockdown drill and advise you about security cameras and other technology. All you have to do is ask.”
A Temple Beth-El board member responded, “I just want to say thank you to the police officers for helping our temple at our survey walk through. They gave great ideas, and followed up to make sure that we had no more concerns.”
Rabbi Michael Klayman of Lake Success Jewish Center also thanked the officers for their assistance and asked how security could be increased on Shabbat.
Flanagan said that the synagogue had to take measures to monitor the parking lot and report anything suspicious. “You know better than we do what or who seems out of place,” remarked Flanagan.
Great Neck Park District Commissioner Daniel Nachmanoff, a congregant of Temple Israel, agreed with the police officers’ advice, saying, “People must be vigilant. The police can only do so much. We must do some of it ourselves, and be familiar with our surroundings so that we can report anything suspicious.”
Kaplan pointed out that grants were offered to religious institutions from the Department of Homeland Security. Even very small synagogues and schools are eligible for financial assistance, but they might not be aware that funds are available.
Flanagan offered information about Smart 911 on the Nassau County Police Department website. Residents can use this free service to provide background information about their home or business, so that it is immediately available to dispatchers during an emergency.
“Here in North Hempstead, we promote tolerance of all the diverse cultures and races in our communities,” stated Bosworth. “We stand together in opposition to those who are anti-immigrant or anti-Semitic.”
On May 4, at Clinton G. Martin Park, the town is holding a unity event, Not in Our Town. Members of the audience were invited to attend the event and to spread the word.
“We all want to work together to stay safe in our communities. We are blessed to live in the Town of North Hempstead in Nassau County. We want to keep it safe,” added Kaplan, who thanked Mr. Silverstein for spreading the word about the public meeting, as well as Shahruz Shahery, who sent thousands of emails throughout Nassau County to promote the event.
Seeman praised the diversity of Nassau County, which has many different ethnic groups who live harmoniously in their communities.
Earlier in the day, an arrest was made regarding the more than 75 threats to JCCs in the United States. Attendees seemed relieved that the perpetrator was caught, but concerned about the risk of other acts of anti–Semitism and terrorism that occur on a regular basis all over the world.
“People need to be vigilant in their communities, but at the same time, there is no need to panic,” said Flanagan. “News about isolated incidents are sometimes exaggerated on social media and elsewhere. On a local level, especially in Nassau County, reports of hate crimes are at very low levels. In 2016, there were 59 hate crimes reported in Nassau County. Thus far in 2017, there have been 12 hate crimes reported. This includes all hate crimes, not just anti-Semitic acts.” Unfortunately, surrounding Nassau County, in New York City, including Queens, as well as in Suffolk County, hate crimes are on the rise.
After all of the questions were answered, Flanagan offered his assistance and expertise to any individual or institution that needed it, and attendees expressed their appreciation for the information.
“Share the information,” Kaplan encouraged the community members in attendance. “We are in very good hands with the Nassau County police. They are accessible and ready to help you one-on-one.”