Report: Chabad of Poway Just Got Money to Improve Security

POWAY, Calif. (AP) -
A car, allegedly used by the gunman who killed one at the Congregation Chabad synagogue in Poway, Calif., is pictured, few hundred feet from the Interstate 15 off-ramp north of San Diego, Calif., April 27, 2019. REUTERS/John Gastaldo

A gunman fired his semiautomatic rifle at mispallelim after walking through a Southern California shul’s front entrance — a spot that religious leaders determined last year needed improved security.

The Chabad of Poway shul applied for a federal grant to install gates and more secure doors to better protect that area. The $150,000 was approved in September but only got awarded in late March.

“Obviously we did not have a chance to start using the funds yet,” Rabbi Simcha Backman told The Associated Press.

Rabbi Backman, who oversees security grants for the 207 Chabad institutions across California, declined to provide details on the planned security enhancements or to speculate whether they might have changed the outcome of the attack.

The shooter killed a woman and wounded an eight-year-old girl and two men — one of them the Rabbi, last Shabbos, the last day of Pesach.

Rabbi Backman said the synagogue north of San Diego is considering asking authorities to allow some of the money to be used to hire security guards, which it doesn’t have now.

After a gunman massacred 11 people at a Pittsburgh congregation last October, Rabbis of California’s Chabad organization, including at the Poway shul, began asking members who were trained law enforcement professionals to carry their weapons at services, Rabbi Backman said.

The congregation also received training from the city of Poway on how to respond to an active shooter, and the Rabbi applied for a concealed carry permit.

The shul was built two decades ago with some security features such as video surveillance, but it started to beef up its measures in 2010. Records show the shul received a $75,000 grant that year for security systems and alarms, a security assessment and installation of 16 cameras, fencing and lighting.

The shul applied for another grant in May 2018, and it was approved in September. It took until March 22 for the state to release the funds.

Backman said it often takes at least a year to complete the paperwork and necessary approvals, including state and federal officials signing off on any historical or environmental effects of the upgrades.

The security grant program is funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and administered in California by the state Office of Emergency Services.

While the shul got approval in September, a workshop on the required documents was not held until the end of October and the shul submitted its first documents in early February, Office of Emergency Services spokesman Brad Alexander said. The state then requested additional information before awarding the money.

“It seems like a long time from the time they granted to the authorization,” said Republican Sen. Brian Jones, whose district includes the shul. “I would like to find out if there’s a way we can speed this up, can we remove some bureaucratic steps here to help these organizations get these improvements done quicker?”

New FEMA rules allow the grants to be spent on security guards, and state officials said recipients of past grants can seek a modification to use the money that way, which Rabbi Backman said the synagogue is considering. He added that the synagogue will find the funds to hire security guards if the government does not fund them.

With hate crimes against Jews and other religious and racial minorities growing, Gov. Gavin Newsom is backing a change in a similar state grant program that also would allow money to be spent on guards. He said institutions should decide whether those guards should be armed.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who lost a finger in the shooting, has talked to Newsom, while the Chabad organization sent Rabbis to Sacramento to push for funds to secure places of worship, Rabbi Backman said.

Rabbi Backman applauded Newsom’s announcement Monday about budgeting $15 million to increase security for religious institutions and other vulnerable nonprofits. Last year, the program got $500,000.

Jewish-affiliated organizations in California received 79% of the 264 nonprofit security grants awarded under the federal and state programs since 2012.