By Jay Cook |
HOLMDEL – Communities in Sutherland, Texas, and Charleston, South Carolina, have been rocked in recent years due to mass shootings at houses of worship.
While the prospect of a catastrophic event like a mass shooting is disturbing, the Holmdel Township Police Department will take steps next month to help ensure local congregants are safe.
On March 20, the local police department will hold a first-ever seminar open to the numerous diverse houses of worship inside Holmdel’s borders, dedicated to educating the clergy and congregants about how to recognize, identify and react to active threats.
“Failure to plan is planning to fail,” said Det. Lt. Keith Cannata, of the Holmdel Township Police Department, who will lead the event. “You can prepare your staff to be a victim or be a survivor. We want to prepare them to be survivors.”
The 90-minute event at Bell Works will focus on a number of different topics Cannata believes are crucial to safety in and around houses of worship: parking lot safety; recognizing and responding to suspicious activity; situational awareness; the Run, Hide, Fight concept; and how to respond before and during police arrival.
“Houses of worship have been targeted in the United States more frequently in the past year,” said Cannata, also a commander on the Monmouth County SWAT Team. “We always look to harden that target and give them the information they need to feel protected and go about their services uninterrupted.”
Cannata said there are seven different religious groups on the list invited to attend. One of those is Chabad Jewish Center of Holmdel, led by Rabbi Shmaya Galperin.
Galperin said it’s been easy and enjoyable working with the Holmdel Township Police Department over the years and welcomes any conversation that could protect his congregants in the future.
“It’s absolutely crucial, and I do believe it can save lives, God forbid if something really did happen,” Galperin said. “We’ll know what to do, who to call, how to respond in traumatic scenarios.”
The rabbi said he’s extended invitations to households active within the Chabad, ranging from 300 to 500 different families. And with the way religious centers have been targeted, he said, congregants and centers as a whole should be aware of the other religious groups practicing in Holmdel.
“I just think people should not be terrorized and fearful to live their lives, because that’s what terrorism is – they want to squash our ability to live freely,” Galperin said. “We should be vigilant and take care of each other.”
Also planning to attend and speak at the seminar is Rev. Rusty Eidmann-Hicks, a pastor with the Holmdel Community United Church of Christ.
“I really welcome the outreach of the police,” Eidmann-Hicks said. “Any kind of dialogue and interaction and openness between the church and community is very important.”
But the conversation must be held in balance, he maintained. On one hand, he doesn’t want to “fear the outsider,” undercutting “what it means to be a church.” On the other, Eidmann-Hicks continued, “we can’t be stupid and open ourselves up to a dangerous thing.”
The pastor also believes there’s more to preventing mass shootings outside of personal defensive tactics. He said he will advocate for stricter gun control laws in an effort to remove access to semi-automatic weapons.
“That’s what I’m going to work on, rather than putting new locks on the doors,” Eidmann-Hicks added.
Each of the different churches and synagogues inside Holmdel are important to the big picture, Cannata said. It’s necessary to provide those leaders with the best information the police department can.
“We need them as much as they need us,” he said. “There are times of crisis where we look to them to help victims – we’ve actually done that in the past. Obviously, our churches are important and we’d like to keep them safe.”
The seminar will be held at 7 p.m. on March 20 at Bell Works, 101 Crawfords Corner Road, Holmdel. It is open only to congregants and clergy of the different places of worship in Holmdel. For more information, call your respective religious center.
This article was first published in the Feb. 22-March 1, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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