Law enforcement offers training to faith-based organizations in New Mexico

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NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Just days after hostages escaped a gunman at a Texas synagogue, law enforcement is offering to help train faith-based organizations to prepare for similar attacks, if they happen. Some departments say that even if there are no local threats at the moment, being proactive and prepared can make all the difference.

“Unfortunately most places of worship, most Jewish places of worship, Jewish community gathering spaces have to be security conscious and personal safety conscious,” said Rabbi Celia Surget of Congregation Albert. “It’s something that’s always top of mind, something that we’re always watching very carefully.”

Inside Congregation Albert of Albuquerque, Rabbi Surget says the potential for an attack on the Jewish community is still there. It was a terrifying feeling heightened when a gunman took members of a Texas synagogue hostage over the weekend.

“I feel, like so many others, a huge, huge sense of relief when we heard that they had been released or had escaped,” Surget said. She described the day as a rush of emotions ranging from fear to anger to sadness.

The Colleyville, Texas rabbi sat down for an interview with CBS Mornings. He credits active shooter lessons with keeping a cool head during combat hours.

“When your life is threatened, you must do everything you can to get to safety. You have to do everything you can to get out,” said Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, who waited until the shooter was in a vulnerable position. “I told them to leave, threw a chair at the shooter and headed for the door and the three of us were able to get out without a shot being fired.”

New Mexico is no stranger to people targeting faith-based organizations. In 2013, a man was convicted of stabbing a choir director and several parishioners at a Catholic church in Albuquerque. In 2015, explosives went off outside two churches in Las Cruces. More recently, in 2021, a suspect started several fires at the Islamic Center.

These are just a few of the reasons the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department has offered Threat and Vulnerability Assessments to congregations. From teaching how to equip places of worship with cameras and security to recognizing danger, they hope to create a culture of preparedness.

“In whatever area we have the community together, there is always the potential for a violent event to occur,” said Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Jon Day. “We try to provide information as best we can to the community so that they can protect themselves from any strangers who may be there.

Without going into detail about their own security plans, Surget says being prepared for the worst-case scenario is especially important now. “We have a lot to learn and looking to the future, we want to make sure that we put in place, as much as possible, processes, trainings.

The nonprofit Secure Community Network is also offering training to the Jewish community following Saturday’s synagogue attack. The interactive online training will teach everything from spotting suspicious behavior to recognizing a mental health crisis. Last year, 17,000 members of the Jewish community received the training and this number is expected to increase significantly.

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