PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro hosts interfaith town hall: Protecting Houses of Worship

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Protecting houses of worship: Dann Cuellar reports on Action News at 10 p.m., December 3, 2018

In the aftermath of the violence at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Attorney General Josh Shapiro has been traveling across the commonwealth talking about working together to come up with ways of protecting houses of worship.

At the KleinLife Jewish Community Center in Northeast Philadelphia on Monday, Shapiro led a candid discussion spurred by the 11 people killed in the synagogue massacre.

"We will not be bullied," Shapiro told the group.

He said they would discuss making buildings more secure.

There has been much debate about whether places of worship should consider having armed guards in place, an issue Shapiro said would be raised.

"That's a tough call," said Michael Anthony of Bethlehem Baptist Church. "As a faith-based group, guns may not necessarily always be the right answer."

One congregation applied and received a homeland security grant to upgrade their security.

"We put in an automatic door locking system; we installed cameras around the perimeter of our building," said Rabbi Jasques Lurie, of Congregation Shaare Shamayim.

Attendants learned that the FBI trains faith leaders on how to react to an active shooter event, even before police arrive on the scene.

"We focus very much on educating you to teach your congregations, because very much, you're going to be on your own for a little while when something starts," said FBI Agent Joseph Metzinger.

They also learned that Philadelphia police can also help draw up security plans.

"Help you put together written plans, help you exercise those plans, talk about how you survive in those few seconds," said Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan.

A number of faith leaders pointed out that even if they wanted them, they don't have the resources to have armed guards or other expensive security measures.

"With lack of those kinds of resources, that's when we have to rely on eyes and partnerships and knowledge with folks who are in law enforcement," said Philadelphia Black Clergy President Reverend Jay Bradnax.

Most importantly, Shapiro said he wants to foster communication and continue the dialogue to combat and respond to threats against houses of worship in Pennsylvania.

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