A Legacy of Safety: Celebrating 10 Years of JFC Security in Action

Tags: Federation, Security

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Table of Contents:

1. Addressing an Immediate Need
2. Building a Strong Foundation of Security
3. Enhancing Physical Security
4. Expanding the Training Curriculum
5. By the Numbers
6. Partnering with Local Law Enforcement
7. Community Security Going Forward

Helping to keep our community safe is one of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s top priorities. Through our security provider, JFC Security, LLC, we are continuously exploring new ways to enhance our community’s ability to combat hatred targeting the Jewish community. Since its humble beginning in 2013, JFC Security has become the gold standard of community security initiatives across the country.

“Our security presence in Cleveland was initially focused on the Federation building,” said Stephen H. Hoffman, now president emeritus for the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. “As signs of rising antisemitism were emerging in Europe and elsewhere, we concluded that we needed to beef up security throughout Jewish Cleveland.”

“When we began security here, we had no formal approach to community security,” said Oren Baratz, Federation’s senior vice president of external affairs. “The whole transformation was moving from protecting one building to protecting an entire community. It was a huge change. But as we grew, we became more sophisticated in our whole approach. Likewise, we knew we had to move forward in such a way that enabled Jewish Cleveland to remain open and welcoming to all.”

Addressing an Immediate Need

In 2013, former FBI agent Jim Hartnett was hired to serve as director of community-wide security – one of the first individuals to hold this title in a North American Jewish community. “I spent almost three decades with the FBI and was very intrigued to have the opportunity to lead community security at the time when there was such a growing need,” said Hartnett.

According to Harnett, he and the team worked simultaneously on addressing immediate needs and instituting a comprehensive, long-range approach to community security.

“One of our initial concerns was protecting the local Jewish Day Schools as gun violence in school settings was escalating in the U.S.,” Hartnett said.

“That was the catalyst to us raising our standards to start having armed guards at our day schools,” added Hoffman.

Hebrew Academy of Cleveland was one of the first schools to embrace the upgraded security measures. “Schools across the country were confronted with a new reality,” said Rabbi Simcha Dessler, the educational director for the school. “The stakes were high as the very safety of staff and students were at risk. The Federation security team has been a fabulous partner, one that can be relied upon in the changing world in which we live.”

Building a Strong Foundation of Security

Building a strong foundation of security for Jewish Cleveland required what Hartnett refers to as establishing the four pillars of community security – creating awareness in the community to understand the threats we face, target hardening our facilities, training community members, and establishing a strong partnership with the local and national law enforcement departments.

“We began to do assessments of our beneficiary agencies and local synagogues,” explained Hoffman. “We provided law enforcement departments floor plans of these organizations. And we began conducting personalized tabletop exercises and training sessions to help the clergy, leadership teams, and volunteers understand what to do in an emergency.”

“The community needed to understand their role in community safety,” said Hartnett. “A threat to one of us is a threat to all of us. Through the training exercises, we were able to build greater community awareness and begin to understand what changes needed to be put in place longer term.”

Enhancing Physical Security

One area of focus exposed through the ongoing training was the need to make the physical locations of these organizations more secure – what is known in the security field as “hardening targets.” “We can’t afford to have soft targets anymore,” Hartnett said. “We can’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable to potential aggressors because we’re not proactively making our buildings harder to breach. We needed to invest in better locks, more sophisticated alarms and surveillance cameras, and more to provide a stronger security infrastructure to support the growing needs of the community.”

As an extension of this target-hardening effort, JFC Security began a mobile patrol effort. “Local police officers can’t be everywhere all the time,” Hartnett explained. “Our JFC security officers are all former veteran police officers that through our mobile patrol units, we help provide local law enforcement with another set of eyes and ears for what’s happening in the Jewish community. At the same time, community members started to recognize the vehicles and appreciated seeing them throughout the community.”

“The support and buy-in from our community is immeasurable.”
                                               - Oren Baratz

Expanding the Training Curriculum

Another way to harden targets is to have what Hartnett calls a “security mindset” throughout the community. Part of this comes from continuously encouraging people to call 911 if they see anything out of the ordinary in their daily lives. “Police would much rather rule something out than respond to an active situation,” noted Baratz.

To understand what constitutes being “out of the ordinary” in daily life requires sharpened situational awareness – and this requires training for the broader community.

“When I came on, one of my main tasks was to bring the community together with training,” said Jeff Robertson, deputy director of community-wide security. “I met everyone within the community at synagogues and helped train as many people as possible in a wide range of topics – from ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ to ‘Usher/Greeter’ training and more.”

“Communities are best served when its members receive training on how to respond in a crisis,” said Neil R. Waxman, chair of Federation’s security committee.

By The Numbers:

  • JFC Security now has 55 highly-trained officers, including former police chiefs
  • JFC Security has trained more than 3,700 community members since 2019
  • JFC Security is patrolling Jewish Cleveland seven days a week, every week
  • JFC Security leadership has a combined 160+ years in law enforcement

Partnering with Local Law Enforcement

“At the same time, we also began training with our local law enforcement partners, including the FBI,” added Hartnett. “It’s important to have them part of the process and work together.”

“We have created such a deep relationship of personal and professional trust and friendships with law enforcement, which enables us to further enhance the level of security throughout Jewish Cleveland,” said Baratz. “We have daily communications with law enforcement departments in the area. We update them, share with them, train with them. These are important relationships – and another way we balance being safety conscious and being an open and welcoming community.”

Community Security Going Forward

“It goes without saying that Cleveland is the gold standard when it comes to securing our community,” said Hoffman. “We are, pound for pound, the best prepared community in the United States – in terms of budget to population size to institution numbers. No one comes close.”

That said, with the rising in hatred towards Jews showing no slowing, JFC Security is not going to rest on its laurels.

In the five years since the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, JFC Security has increased its force to 55 full-time officers and deployed sophisticated cameras and various other types of security technology throughout our community that are monitored by trained security personnel.

“The attack on the three Pittsburgh Jewish congregations accelerated our community security efforts exponentially,” said Erika B. Rudin-Luria, Federation president. “Seemingly overnight, we increased security to a high-level across all Jewish synagogues, schools, institutions in our Cleveland Jewish community.

“What makes JFC Security so exceptional is both the people and the professional level of security they provide,” said Rudin-Luria. “They are constantly learning and innovating in order to do their best to help protect all of us – and enable us to live Jewishly however we choose. The Jewish Federation of Cleveland cares about the well-being of the entire Jewish community. Providing a secure environment is a key component to that end.”

For more information on JFC Security, LLC, contact Oren Baratz at obaratz@jewishcleveland.org or 216-593-2900, ext: 270.

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