Fort Worth responds to nationwide anti-Semitic incidents

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With the recent anti-Semitic attacks, threats and vandalism of synagogues and Jewish organizations, Fort Worth Police and the local Jewish community have been working together to make sure incidents like these don’t happen here.

Below is a timeline of some of the 160 anti-Semitic incidents reported across the U.S.

STATEMENTS FROM FORT WORTH’S JEWISH COMMUNITY

In a statement from the Beth-El Congregation, Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger said the synagogue is staying on the safe side to avoid any incidents happening to their community.

“With the threats nationally against Jewish institutions, and desecration of cemeteries, Beth-El is taking reasonable precautions, as we always do,” Mecklenburger said. “If an incident were to occur here, no doubt the local Jewish community would appreciate expressions of support.”

According to Bob Goldberg, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, the community has not experienced any anti-Semitic incidents since the reports grew across the United States.

“Fortunately, we have not experienced any local incidents,” Goldberg said in another statement. “We are aware of the incidents that have occurred around the country and we are receiving information regularly through the Federation movement and its security apparatus of Secure Community Network (SCN) that works hand in hand with Homeland Security. We are disseminating this information from SCN to other interested organizations and groups as it is made available.”

Goldberg said he wanted to thank the local law enforcement professionals who have been in steady contact with the Federation and are always ready to support and protect the Jewish community.

LAW ENFORCEMENT’S RESPONSE

Officer Scott Mitchell of the tactical intel and homeland security unit of Fort Worth Police said they have a great relationship with the Jewish community, contacting them on a regular basis after the reported incidents.

“So, when all of the threats started… I just communicated with all of them,” Mitchell said. “Letting them know what was going on around the country with all of them and in other places and asked them to heighten their awareness for anything out of the ordinary or anything suspicious and if they have any concerns to please call me.”

Federal Homeland Security, through a Protective Security Advisor along with a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agent, has been with local Jewish leaders several weeks ago offering guidance, training and tools to assist them in better planning their security and emergency response. Mitchell said that HSI has accepted an offer to meet again in the near future.

“I find it encouraging that they are actively looking to improve their security measures, training and response,” Mitchell said. “They stated that their actions were in direct response to [the] recent world and national events, even though they have not experienced any threats locally.”

In addition to these actions, Mitchell said that even making the smallest of gestures like not leaving doors propped open and having an emergency response plan can help prevent these incidents.

“So, [Synagogues and other faith-based organizations] got to have a plan,” Mitchell said. “They’ve got to train and things like that because you’re not going to be able to wing it when it all happens… fortunately, most of them have because today’s time, it’s just a necessity and so, they kind of done their due diligence and we stay on top of them and make sure that things are in place to address something that might happen.”

He said that an “emergency response plan” is a very generic term for any plan that helps places of worship, businesses or organizations maintain safety for its community for various emergencies and situations.

“Is it a fire or an active shooter or a bomb threat? Is it the church occupied for a service or is it the middle of the night?” Mitchell said. “There is no one-size-fits-all plan for every church, business or organization.”

So, Mitchell and HSI have worked with these communities to make sure they have the right plan in case something does go wrong.

FBI’S 2015 HATE CRIME STATISTICS PROGRAM 

According to the FBI’s 2015 Hate Crime Statistics Program, out of the 14,997 law enforcement agencies that participated in the program, 21.4 percent of single-biased incidents were prompted by religious bias and 19.8 percent of offenses were religiously biased. The top religious biases reported were 51.3 percent anti-Jewish and 22.2 percent anti-Islamic.

Here are two graphs with further breakdowns of religiously biased hate crimes from the 2015 program.

ISSUES LAW ENFORCEMENT OVERCOME

Mitchell said one of the difficulties in finding possible offenders is that the tactics offenders make are evolving as fast as the law enforcement’s responses to them. He said one of the keys is that offenders will do some surveillance prior to attacks because they want to be successful.

“They want to create as much carnage as possible,” Mitchell said. “So, rarely does it happen as sort of a spur-of-the-moment type of event.”

Mitchell said the planning that offenders go into, however, does provide law enforcement officials the opportunity for them to intervene and stop any possible attacks.

COPYCAT CRIMES AND THE COPYCAT EFFECT

In some cases, Mitchell said incidents covered by the media can influence people to make these actions. What Mitchell is referring to is the sociological theory of the “copycat effect.”

The idea of criminal imitation goes as far back as the late 19th Century in the writings of French criminologist Gabriel Tarde. The term was first used to describe patterns of criminal behavior by David Dressler, former executive director of the New York State Division of Parole and sociologist, in 1961.

In his article, “The Case of the Copycat Criminal,” Dressler said when crimes come in waves, imitation of crimes plays a part in the phenomenon.

Today, some believe that the incidents across the nation have correlated with the copycat effect. Offenders are often lone wolf individuals rather than others affiliated with larger terrorist organizations, such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda, said Mitchell.

There have been reports where it may seem like religiously biased incidents, such as the vandalism of the St. Stephen Presbyterian Church near TCU, but there was no evidence of a hate crime.

“So, while again it may seem up front to be some sort of targeted thing, a lot of times they’re motivated by what they’re seeing on the news and events,” Mitchell said. “So it doesn’t turn out to be anything too serious so we’ve been fortunate to not have a directed, specific attack or even targeted threat based on the faith-based organization.”

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Mitchell said the main thing for people to do is to be aware of whatever is going on around you, whether or not you are a part of a faith-based organization.

“With the amount of reconnaissance and the amount of planning that would go into an actual terrorist attack, there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for someone to see something out of the ordinary,” Mitchell said.

He said people should pay attention to unusual behavior. To help reduce these incidents, people should say something about anything suspicious and “not to blow it off,” including things such as a parked car that hasn’t moved for days or receiving calls with unusual requests, said Mitchell.

Even if you’re not sure of the suspicious behavior you’re witnessing, Mitchell said that it’s better for someone to call the police about it and have it be nothing at all rather than not report anything.

If you have witnessed anything suspicious or unusual going on in your community, call 911.