Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Thursday was joined by religious leaders and Suffolk officials to discuss his three-pronged approach to address the growing threat of religious hate crimes. Credit: Newsday / Shelby Knowles

Nassau and Suffolk officials sought to assure Long Island religious leaders Thursday that everything possible is being done to protect area houses of worship following recent mass shootings at sanctuaries in and outside the United States.

“What we want to do today is to reassure all our residents that no matter how you worship, no matter who you worship, we are doing everything we can to make sure it is safe to worship in Nassau County,” County Executive Laura Curran told religious leaders at an event at county headquarters in Mineola.

The Jewish Community Relations Council, a Jericho-based nonprofit, helped organize the Nassau event and a similar one Thursday in Suffolk.

“We are horrified by the hate that is filling this world," said Adam Novak, a representative of the council. "Places of worship are where we go for strength, love, comfort, and peace.” 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the county has “zero tolerance for hatred or violence of any kind.”

“Our churches, mosques, synagogues and more, are places for our residents to come together and celebrate their faith,” Bellone said. “We will do everything in our power to safeguard our residents in these welcoming places.”

Fears of violence at houses of worship have been heightened following recent deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand, churches in Sri Lanka, and a synagogue in a suburb of San Diego.

Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island, announces...

Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, of Chabad Lubavitch of Long Island, announces the 'OneSuffolk' anti-hate campaign alongside community religious leaders and county officials in Hauppauge on Thursday. Credit: Shelby Knowles

In the most recent attack, a 19-year-old man faces murder and attempted murder after authorities said he walked into a synagogue Saturday in Poway, California, just over 22 miles northeast of San Diego, and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle, killing a female congregant and wounding three others, including a Long Island-trained Chabad rabbi.

“We’ve been alarmed by the rise of hate rhetoric and hate crimes," Bellone said, "and the shooting in San Diego is just another reminder of what hate can do.”
Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder acknowledged that “we cannot stop and prevent every active shooter" but said the department is taking action to prevent shootings at houses of worship and other locations and are prepared in the event of an attack.

Ryder said preparations include monitoring the social media of persons of concern, conducting training and security assessments at churches, synagogues and mosques, and installing apps that allow institutions to communicate directly with police after a shooting.

Nassau police have also tripled the size of their Homeland Security unit in the last year or so, the police commissioner said.

Religious leaders praised the presentations.

“I think it is very encouraging that the county government is on the cutting edge as far as making sure that everything that is humanly possible will be done to prevent hatred from translating into action,” said Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, head of the Orthodox Chabad movement on Long Island.

Rabbi Anchelle Perl of the Chabad of Mineola, who is related by marriage to Yisroel Goldstein — the rabbi shot in the Poway synagogue Saturday — called the Nassau program “a breath of fresh air.”

“What we saw today was the best of America on display when police and government leaders are not part of the problem, but part of the solution to help protect its citizens and are engaged to help all houses of worship to stay safe,” Perl said.

Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum of Temple Israel of Lawrence said: “The presentation had a profound impact in that it gave us a sense of security that we could share with our congregation.”

In Suffolk, Bellone announced a multipronged campaign to increase safety and security at houses of worship.

The “OneSuffolk” campaign will be aimed at increasing participation in the Suffolk police department’s “Safety in the Sanctuary” training program. Police have conducted 60 of the training sessions since 2017, and demand is growing, said Suffolk Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron. The department has already nearly matched the 28 training sessions conducted in 2018, and may do up to 100 this year, Cameron said.

Suffolk police plan to reach out to the New York Board of Rabbis, the Diocese of Rockville Centre, and the Long Island Council of Churches to boost participation, Bellone said. Cameron said the department is also making an online version of the program that religious groups can access.

Since 2017, Suffolk police have performed 22 security assessments at houses of worship and more than 233 active shooter training sessions at schools, businesses and houses of worship. The department also conducts “stop the bleed” training, which is designed save lives of those shot during an attack.

Last year, Suffolk police added two staff members to their Homeland Security Bureau, department officials said.

Bellone said the county is also forming a new umbrella working group to denounce and combat hate and violence based on race, creed, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

He plans to visit three synagogues on Saturday to discuss the programs.

Rita Powick, who attended the Suffolk event at county headquarters in Hauppauge, said: "The police department has been wonderful" in helping her synagogue, B'nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale, remain safe.

She said she would like officials to make available more information on government grants that houses of worship can obtain for security.

With Michael O'Keeffe

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