Nobody had to tell them what to do next.
Immediately following the tragic shooting at a synagogue in Poway, near San Diego, the Beverly Hills Police Department made 50 proactive special visits to synagogues and Jewish institutions in the city.
They were not ordered to do it. The Jewish institutions did not ask them to do it. The men and women who serve as stewards of this community just did it, because that is what peacekeepers do.
“The beauty of our department is our men and women know where all the Jewish-based institutions are, and they deploy. They put themselves out of service to go into these institutions and talk to the heads of security and talk to the rabbis,” Chief of Police Sandra Spagnoli said. “We let them know that we’re monitoring all of this.”
Armed with real-time information of critical incident and intelligence worldwide, BHPD is able to alert community members to threats — and reassure them when all is quiet. This is particularly welcome in a community whose large Jewish population has spent many Shabbat mornings discussing the disquieting rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes in the nation.
The shooting in Poway, which killed one person and injured three, follows a synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, in which 11 people were murdered while they prayed. Nationwide, hate crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions spiked about 37 percent between 2016 and 2017, according to the FBI.
“After incidents like these, we up our presence. We get out of the patrol cars and talk to the constituents,” Assistant Police Chief Marc Coopwood said. “You see the fear in their eyes, and our presence goes a million miles.”
BHPD’s proactive response has helped to allay some of that fear and communicates to the community that “we all look out for each other,” said Rabbi Jonathan Aaron, chief rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills and chaplain of BHPD.
“We have such a great relationship with the police. If anything happens, we can call them directly; they’ve been wonderful,” Aaron said. “Our country is incredible because of freedom of religion. We have been beefing up our own security and working with the department. People need to be comfortable worshiping in freedom without fear of attack.”
In addition to stepping up patrols around Jewish institutions, last week BHPD made a large showing at an Israeli Independence Day celebration in the city.
“We have a motto, ‘Police and community together,’” Coopwood said. “When I say that, I’m talking about a real community-based partnership.”
“Every couple of weeks there seems to be another incident that mourn. It’s a very difficult time,” Aaron said. “It is important to remember people do act humanely, that people do care about each other.”