March 11, 2020

Senator Haskell Supports Heightened Security at the Houses of Worship and Other Non Profits

HARTFORD – State Senator Will Haskell (D-Westport) today welcomed the approval of $5 million in state bonding to allow nonprofit organizations like synagogues, mosques and churches to seek a competitive state grant to help them fortify themselves against terrorist attacks and hate crimes, or to pay for recent security improvements they have made.

“In light of recent attacks on places of worship targeting parishioners in our state and nationwide, this funding is vital to protect constituents of all faiths,” said Sen. Haskell. “I’m proud that we are protecting religious communities statewide.”

State Senators Derek Slap (D-West Hartford) and Saud Anwar (D-South Windsor) first proposed the idea of state bonding a year ago, when they spoke at a bipartisan press conference with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith leaders on the need for security improvements at certain houses of worship. The press conference was prompted by events last spring, including an arson at a mosque in New Haven, a threat to burn down an Islamic center in Greater Hartford, and a surge in anti-Semitic attacks across America.

“We have unfortunately seen a consistent pattern of attacks against religious groups, a trend that we must not allow to continue,” said Sen. Anwar. “This bond funding represents our state coming together to support our religious institutions, including mosques, temples and churches. I am confident that steps like these will preserve the security of our community.”

“No one should ever be afraid to worship at their church, synagogue or mosque,” Sen. Slap said. “We are coming together today – lawmakers from both parties and of many faiths – to protect this basic part of a free and democratic society. We first proposed this a year ago, and I’m gratified that we were able to get this done today. Allowing nonprofits and houses of worship to access security funding will improve public safety and will send a message: freedom of religion also means freedom to practice it without fear.”

“On behalf of the Jewish communities across Connecticut, we thank the legislature and the governor for their support,” said Michael Bloom, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut. “The State of Connecticut has a leading role to play in public safety, and these dollars will hopefully deter future attacks on our houses of worship.”

The new state bonding bill defines an “eligible nonprofit organization” as any 501(c)(3) organization under the Internal Revenue Service Code “that is at heightened risk, as determined by the commissioner, of being the target of a terrorist attack, hate crime, or violent act.”

The bill directs the state Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (DESPP) to develop by May 1 certain nonprofit building security infrastructure criteria, including:

  • the reinforcement of entryways with ballistic glass, solid core doors, double door access, computer-controlled electronic locks, remote locks on all entrance and exits, and door buzzer systems;
  • the use of cameras throughout a building and at all entrances and exits, including the use of closed-circuit television monitoring;
  • penetration-resistant vestibules;
  • and other security infrastructure improvements and devices as they become industry standards.

DESPP must then develop a checklist for eligible nonprofits to use to assess their own safety and security, including their communications systems, building access control and surveillance, utility systems, mechanical systems, and emergency power.

DESPP will then oversee the $5 million competitive grant program and provide grants to nonprofits for any eligible expenses they may have incurred after July 1, 2019, including the installation of surveillance cameras, penetration-resistant vestibules, ballistic glass, solid core doors, double door access, computer-controlled electronic locks, entry door buzzer systems, scan card systems, panic alarms, training personnel to operate the security system, or the purchase of portable entrance security devices like metal detector wands and screening machines.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 39 anti-Semitic incidents in Connecticut in 2018, including 19 instances of harassment, 19 acts of vandalism, and one assault. That is lower than the 49 total acts in 2017, but higher than the 38 acts in 2016 and the 26 acts in 2015.

This new competitive grant program generally follows the same format as Public Act 13-3, which established the School Security Competitive Grant Program to assist public and non-public schools in improving their security infrastructure following the Sandy Hook massacre.

In that instance, community leaders, emergency management directors, educational professionals and emergency responders developed comprehensive school security plans that were reviewed and approved by the state Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Common school security upgrades funded under that program include electronic door locks, window film, card access control systems, six-foot high or higher fencing, traffic control bollards, lighting, office reconfiguration, surveillance cameras, video archiving systems, panic buttons, door replacement, and intercom/phone systems.