Armed off-duty police officers or armed private security guards at possible local targets for terrorist attacks “would be a good deterrent and potentially would save lives by stopping an attack quickly,” Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg told The Suburban.
“It is wrong that private security guards can carry guns when transporting large amounts of money, but not for the purpose of protecting people attending religious services,” Steinberg added.
We sought the Mayor’s opinion in light of the recent attack on a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, in which a rabidly anti-Jewish supporter of the anti-Semitic (despite their name) Black Hebrew Israelites stabbed five people, including one very critically.
The Suburban reported last year that the town has been pressing to enable the congregants of the Montreal Torah Centre to be able to pay for armed off-duty police officers to provide security in light of prior synagogue shootings in the United States. The effort has not borne fruit so far.
Security around synagogues is expected to be even more vital in light of the U.S.’s killing Thursday of General Qassem Soleimani, who was head of Iran’s Quds force.
In his response to us, Steinberg also made reference to the recent incident at a Texas church in which an armed congregant quickly dispatched a shooter, preventing a likely massacre.
“It took seven seconds from the time the attacker began firing,” Steinberg said. “In Texas, carrying concealed weapons is legal. I am not suggesting that solution for Montreal. Armed security is a much better solution.”
Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, disagreed, firstly saying Quebec does not allow police to take armed off-duty work, except for the railroad.
“There are only three factors involved in making decisions about security,” he added. “History, current intelligence and common sense. History — there has not been a violent attack on a Jew in the City of Montreal since World War II. Intelligence — there are no warnings from CSIS or the RCMP about an increased threat in Canada, Quebec or Montreal to the Jewish community. And common sense dictates that at the threat level as it is right now, does not rise to the level of needing armed guards in our synagogues.”
Rabbi Poupko added that decisions by any one synagogue about security must take into consideration what impact that could have on other Jewish institutions and the community in general.
“By hiring armed guards, we send a message that is inaccurate, and that inaccurate message is that we need them. I know when you sit in a committee meeting at a synagogue, everyone can say ‘what if?’ and therefore people don’t come to decisions based on history, common sense or current intelligence. If you live in a world of ‘what if?’, we would have had armed guards at all of our synagogues years ago.
“We live in a world where we want to send a message that this is a safe Jewish community, and that our institutions are open, and should be full and vibrant.”