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Sen. Chuck Schumer: FCC should allow JCC phone calls to be traced

Nassau County police and elected officials discuss the department's enhanced security and intensified patrols around all religious institutions, especially Jewish community centers and synagogues, at a press conference Feb. 28, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Prompted by a recent wave of bomb threats to Jewish institutions, Sen. Chuck Schumer is asking the Federal Communications Commission chairman to grant a special waiver for tracing phone calls made to facilities that have been targeted.

In a letter sent Tuesday to FCC Chairman Ajit Varadaraj Pai, Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted that on Monday bomb threats were simultaneously made to Jewish community centers in 11 states. The centers targeted included one in Plainview and others in Staten Island and Westchester County.

“Valuable intel” is needed “to help stop the threats and thwart these phony calls that have a real economic and psychic impact,” Schumer said in a news release. “Perpetrators terrorizing Jewish communities across the country — and here on Long Island — should not be allowed to hide in the shadows.”

Since the start of the year, there have been about 100 threats targeting 81 Jewish institutions nationwide, including two in Nassau County, Nassau acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said Tuesday at a news conference in Mineola.

The bomb threats made against the two centers in Nassau — one on Monday and the other on Jan. 18 — have similarities, Krumpter said. But he would not say whether police know if the same person or group is behind both scares.

On Jan. 18, the Barry and Florence Friedberg Jewish Community Center on Neil Court in Oceanside was evacuated after it received a bomb threat, police said. The same happened Monday at the Mid-Island Y JCC on Manetto Hill Road in Plainview.

In both instances, police searched the premises, but did not find any bombs.

The wave of anti-Semitic incidents reported in Nassau and across the country in recent months have prompted lawmakers, religious and civil rights leaders to speak out.

Rabbi Anchell Perl of Chabad of Mineola said Jews will not be intimidated by the hateful acts or “recede into the shadows . . . Nothing will stop us in continuing to contribute to society.”

Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin), the ranking member on the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, said there is a “culture of fear” in the Jewish, Hispanic and Muslim communities since the November election.

Schumer said the waiver would allow targeted centers to work with local law enforcement to access “critical” information about callers’ idenities and locations. Normally the FCC permits a caller to have an anonymous number, but with the waiver, the agency is allowed to unscramble the number so that it is visible, Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro said.

A comment from the FCC was not immediately available.

In a letter to Pai sent Tuesday, Schumer pointed to a threat directed at the Middletown School District last year to show how the technology can be key in these investigations. Schumer said former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler consented to a special waiver allowing the school district to access caller information.

Once Middletown got the waiver, and that fact was publicized, the calls stopped, Roefaro said.

With Robert Brodsky

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