US synagogues should not arm ordinary congregants, Jewish security agency says
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US synagogues should not arm ordinary congregants, Jewish security agency says

Secure Community Network says trained police officers would be better able to deal with high stress situations like Poway shooting

A San Diego county sheriff's deputy stands in front of the Poway Chabad Synagogue in Poway, California, April 28, 2019, after a shooting. (AP /Denis Poroy)
A San Diego county sheriff's deputy stands in front of the Poway Chabad Synagogue in Poway, California, April 28, 2019, after a shooting. (AP /Denis Poroy)

JTA — If synagogues hire armed guards, they should be trained police officers, a top Jewish security agency said 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 Wednesday 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 said.

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 said. “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.”

The report said 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 said 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.

“In some locations, the presence of firearms may be readily accepted, or even expected,” the report said. “One should not assume that the presence of firearms will be reassuring to all; some may find the presence of firearms distressing.”

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