On Friday, March 18, the Great Neck Estates Mayor William D. Warner and officers from local police departments visited the Young Israel Synagogue to discuss security measures to increase awareness and preparedness regarding possible security threats. Mayor Warner was joined by two officers from the Great Neck Estates Police Department, three officers from the 6th precinct of the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) and two officers from the Homeland Security unit of the Nassau County Police Department.
With threats of domestic terrorism across the county that target houses of worship and schools, Mayor Warner and Police Chief Ricardo Moreno have taken action to coordinate resources and plans with local law enforcement and religious institutions.
“This isn’t just a temple issue; it’s an everywhere issue,” said Mayor Warner. While the Nassau County Police Department works to serve all of the county, the Great Neck Estates Police Department focuses solely on the Great Neck area. “The Great Neck Estates officers can be to local Great Neck houses of worship and schools in 60 to 90 seconds in response to an emergency call,” said Mayor Warner.
The plan Mayor Warner, Chief Moreno and local officers created include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s four-step outline to mitigate risk in an emergency. Step one is to connect and establish relationships with local emergency services and first responders. Step two requires creating a plan focusing on public preparedness and crime prevention strategies. Step three involves training and familiarizing staff with procedures and working on improving security vulnerabilities. Step four is to report; the plan stresses the common phrase: ‘See something, say something.’
The detailed plan that the Nassau County Police Department, Great Neck Estates Police Department and Mayor worked on was shared with Young Israel of Great Neck President David Basaleli. President Basaleli welcomed the Mayor and officers into the Synagogue to familiarize themselves with the layout of the building, share lockdown ideas and learn where the safe rooms are to locate students and staff.
Young Israel has security measures in place, such as locked doors that can only be accessed with individual staff codes, alarm systems and security guards monitoring the entrances and halls of the building. Mayor Warner discussed with Basaleli that the officers responding to a call should access the codes and keys to unlock the doors and save time upon arrival. President Basaleli and the officers exchanged direct emergency numbers in order to cut as much time as possible.
“More than half of these shooters coming to schools and places of worship are looking to cause as much damage as possible in a short amount of time,” said Officer Todd Atkin, School Resource Coordinator of the NCPD Homeland Security division. “These shooters are usually done in two minutes, sometimes five minutes, so every second counts to stop these guys.”
Basaleli explained to the group that the Young Israel building used to be two different buildings that became one. Due to the joining of the two buildings, the three different building levels and layout of rooms are odd.
“We will share building plans, so the officers responding know where the different entrances and halls lead,” said President Basaleli. “We can get layouts of the inside and the parking lots and sidewalks leading to the entrances.”
Throughout the tour, Mayor Warner and the seven officers were observant of all the areas around the Synagogue. The group noted all exits, doors to classrooms and learned the capacity of each room.
Nathan Tarnor, the Chairman of Young Israel’s Security Event Committee, joined the tour and led the group through the three sanctuaries of the building. “We have about 70 children here during the week and 150 kids here on the Sabbath,” said Tarnor. “The temple can be packed with 600 people on big holidays, so figuring out a way to initiate safe and speedy lockdowns is a must.”
Tarnor, Basaleli, and the officers discussed lockdown procedures for the sanctuaries, the biggest security concerns, and details on forming the best lockdown plans for students and faculty. The officers bounced ideas off each other and suggested additions such as a PA system and strobe light signals to be installed in noisy spaces.
Officer Atkin and the Homeland Security department offer active shooter training, which has stopped due to COVID-19. They hope to start it up and offer it to the school faculty again. Basaleli explained how some members in the Synagogue have recently signed up for training that is similar to the training security guards received. The faculty will learn how to direct people in emergencies and keep them calm. They will do ‘Stop the Bleed’ training and know what to look out for regarding security threats.
The group exchanged stories of different shootings across the country and discussed safety strategies for different cases of domestic terrorism. The tour lasted about two hours, and both the Young Israel staff and officers were thankful for each other’s support and efforts.
“We signed up for this, and you didn’t,” Officer Atkin said towards the end of the tour. “We signed up to risk our lives and protect our communities, but members of schools and places of worship did not, so we are glad you welcomed us here to work together on safety protocols.”
“We are very appreciative of the Mayor meeting with us on a regular basis for safety needs,” said Basaleli. “We also appreciate the Homeland Security officers, the NCPD Problem-Oriented Policing department officers, and the Great Neck Estates officers for coming to the Synagogue and keeping us updated on safety and training protocols. Mayor Warner and the Police Chief have been very proactive and always reach out to update us on protocols.”
Young Israel of Great Neck extends a special thank you to the officers present on the tour. From NCPD Homeland Security Department; Officer Atkin and Officer Adam Meyer. From the Great Neck Estates Police Department; Officer Gregory Jurkowick and Officer Kevin Ryan. The Problem-Oriented Policing unit from the NCPD sixth precinct; Officer Joeseph Altieri, Officer Kristen Lorenzo, and Stephanie Papa.