By Stephen E. Lipken
Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino spoke before 17 Westchester Synagogue Executive Directors at Shaarei Tikvah, Scarsdale on Thursday, March 2 regarding recent bomb threats to Westchester Jewish Community Centers and hate crimes, reassuring the group that whether the threats were pranks or in earnest, the County would deal forcefully and decisively with the perpetrators.
Also present were Westchester Jewish Council Executive Director Elliot Forchheimer; John Hodges, Chief, Westchester County Department of Public Safety Investigative Services; Commissioner of Public Safety George Longworth and Robin Schlaff, Director, Office for Women.
“We offer specifically at our Jewish schools, Temples and community centers the opportunity to get a direct feedback from our law enforcement on how to protect themselves, and secure their buildings,” Astorino stated.
“Any ‘sicko’ who thinks that it is funny to call in a bomb threat should be condemned. If we catch them we should be dealing with them as stringently as we can… People shouldn’t have to live in fear.”
Asked what is being done to rectify the situation, Astorino replied, “There are things that we are doing that are visible that are giving security assessments, stepping up patrols…Sometimes we want our presence to be seen, other times we are doing it in the background, undercover.
“We have an Intelligence Center that gives information in real time and digs up threats that are happening plus a Joint Terrorist Task Force which we sit on, working in conjunction with FBI, State and local partners.”
The question was raised if there were any precedents dealing with these issues. Longworth responded, “There is intelligence gathering, the key issue in preventing events like this. The second action is the level of preparedness. We train new recruits to deal with all kinds of chemical, biological and radiological explosive devices to spot threats. Every police officer on the street today is an anti-terrorism officer… Training, prevention and intelligence are the keys.”
“WJC, representing the Westchester Jewish community condemns these nationwide anti-Semitic phone calls and acts of hatred that have reached Westchester and are designed to create fear. We applaud our elected officials, the professionals in our Westchester Intelligence Center, County Police and local law enforcement officials that have responded quickly and thoroughlyto investigate these incidents,” Forchheimer stressed. “We know that by working together justice will prevail...”