San Diego

Gov. Newsom Vows $15M for Security at Places of Worship Across State

California has spent $4.5 million since 2015 to augment a federal grant program created after the 2001 terrorist attacks, including $2 million in 2017

California Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed on Monday to spend $15 million for increased security at "soft targets" like the synagogue in Poway where a gunman opened fire Saturday, killing one worshiper.

Newsom said he will include the money in his $144 billion general fund budget proposal, which he intends to revise by the middle of May.

The California Legislative Jewish Caucus had requested it, calling for a 30-fold increase in a state program that last year spent $500,000 on grants to nonprofits organizations vulnerable to hate crimes.

"It was self-evident, the need to do more," Newsom told reporters. "That money pales in comparison to the need for mosques, for synagogues, for other institutions."

NBC 7’s Joe Little spoke to local religious leaders about how they protect their congregation and how the governor’s fund could help their communities.

“We would totally welcome an armed guard, and I think that most churches would,” Pastor Troy Singleterry of City View Church said.

Singleterry said, in order to protect his hundreds of parishioners, he welcomes state funds to hire protection through Newsom’s pledged funds.

The Islamic Center of San Diego already has an armed guard.

“We are doing our best to protect ourselves and our community,” said Imam Abdel Jalil Mezgouri of the Islamic Center of San Diego.

The suspect in the Chabad of Poway synagogue shooting was also charged with setting fire to a mosque in Escondido.

“It is alarming because I don’t want to use the word ‘scary,’ because this is the goal of these people: To spread fear,” Mezgouri said. “Unfortunately what is happening is very sad. It's very devastating.”

Singleterry agreed with this idea.

“When people walk into a church or to wherever they go, they’re not focused on fear but on faith,” he told NBC 7. “I think just creating that culture that, ‘Hey, there’s something that’s here to protect you so that you feel like you don’t have anything to worry about.’”

And while Mezgouri said $15 million spread across all the places of worship in California is not much, he said it was “at least” a beginning.

“We are doing our best to protect ourselves and our community,” Mezgouri said. “We cannot jeopardize the lives of our community and our people.”

NBC 7 reached out to the Catholic Diocese of San Diego, which said it recently hosted a security seminar for all of its churches and schools. The diocese also said it is looking to enhance its security following Saturday’s attack.

California has spent $4.5 million since 2015 to augment a federal grant program created after the 2001 terrorist attacks, including $2 million in 2017. But lawmakers and previous Gov. Jerry Brown reduced the funding to $500,000 this year.

California's Jewish lawmakers want the state to spend much more on security guards, reinforced doors and gates, high-intensity lighting and alarms, and other security for vulnerable institutions. Those include Muslim, Sikh and other minority institutions, women's health groups and LGBTQ organizations.

"The unfortunate reality is that even in houses of worship, thoughts and prayers won't keep us safe," said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, a Democrat from Encino and vice chairman of the caucus. "We need more than thoughts and prayers. We need real security and we need the state to step up and play a role in that."

Gabriel's legislation would help pay for increasing physical security at nonprofit organizations at higher risk because of their ideology, beliefs or mission.

The issue took on new urgency after the weekend shooting at the Chabad of Poway synagogue and as the Legislature coincidently was commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day with tributes and an interactive exhibit remembering the World War II genocide.

"I think it is the most basic and fundamental obligation of government, to protect its citizens," Gabriel said. "And after what we saw in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life and after what we saw in New Zealand, we looked at that $500,000 and said, 'This is insufficient.'"

New York has a similar $25 million program, according to legislative analysts.

In the past four years $16 million was awarded to 210 nonprofits from the combined state and federal programs, well short of the $59 million that was requested, the Jewish Caucus said in a letter last month seeking the increase.

Hate crimes in California involving a religion increased 21 percent in 2017, the most recent year available, according to the state attorney general, from 171 in 2016 to 207 in 2017.

Anti-Jewish events increased nearly 27 percent, from 82 in 2016 to 104 in 2017, while those targeting Muslims rose from 37 in 2016 to 46 in 2017.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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