Maryland county to fund security for nonprofits at risk of hate crimes

JCRC executive to Post: “We thought what we can do to help community institutions; the largest ongoing cost of security is personnel/”

 Maryland flag (illustrative). (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Maryland flag (illustrative).
(photo credit: PIXABAY)

WASHINGTON – Montgomery County in Maryland will provide $700,000 to support the security needs of faith-based institutions, County Executive Marc Elrich announced.

The new grants will be used for nonprofit organizations and facilities that “have experienced, or are at high risk of experiencing, hate crimes.”

The county is home to a large Jewish community, and according to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC), there are over 50 Jewish institutions in the county. “These grants are available to augment costs for security personnel or other security planning measures for nonprofit organizations located in Montgomery County,” the county announced.

“Montgomery County is a community of diversity, inclusion and compassion – but we are not immune from hate and vitriol that could become criminal,” County Executive Elrich said in a statement. “These grants will provide nonprofit organizations with additional resources to enhance the security of their facilities and the safety of our residents. This investment is an affirmation of Montgomery County’s support for our neighbors of every religion, race, and ethnicity. We are committed to protecting the rights of all our everyone who lives or visits our county, and I encourage all applicable Montgomery County organizers to apply for these grants.”

“The idea of securing local funding for security came from the JCRC,” said Ron Halber, executive director of JCRC. He said that JCRC presented to the county executive the idea of providing security money to cover operating costs for nonprofits that are at risk for hate crime or terrorism.

 View north along Maryland State Route 186 (Brookville Road) between Shepherd Street and Turner Lane in Chevy Chase Section Three, Montgomery County, Maryland. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) View north along Maryland State Route 186 (Brookville Road) between Shepherd Street and Turner Lane in Chevy Chase Section Three, Montgomery County, Maryland. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“And the reason we emphasized operating costs was that there is already the National Security Grant Program, which is funded at $180 million, and Jewish synagogues, schools, or agencies have [been eligible for its funds] for almost two decades.”

Federal grants are usually used for protective equipment such as security systems and cameras, Halber said, and that Maryland offers two state grant programs: one that Jewish institutions and other nonprofits can apply for, and a separate one for schools.

“So we were thinking strategically and we said, ‘well, between the federal program and two state programs, what about the fact that the largest ongoing cost of security is personnel?” said Halber.

“Nothing can replace human instinct and having a pair of eyes watching out while others are either at an agency receiving services, congregants at prayer, kids at school or whatever it may be,” Halber said. “Having other people watching out is a very, very important thing. I’ve never done a cumulative study as to how much money the Jewish community in Montgomery County spends a year on paying for security guards, but there’s no doubt it’s in the millions. And so, we thought what can we do to help our institutions, which are maintaining tight budgets to provide the service they’re doing – how can we help alleviate some of the security funding? So the county executive, Mark Elrich, from the beginning was extraordinarily receptive.”

He said that while Jews comprise less than 2% of the population, more than 60% of the religion-based hate crimes in the United States right now are against the Jewish community.

“This funding is not just available to the Jewish community,” Halber emphasized. “It is available to any community that can make the case that it is subjected to bigotry and therefore potentially hate crimes or terrorism. So, I expect the Muslim community will apply; I expect the Asian American community will apply, but we’re the ones who approached the county executive and work with his staff on developing the regulations for this program.”

He noted that there are 54 Jewish buildings, including synagogues, schools and social service agencies, in Montgomery County. “If each of them applied for $20,000, they would already exceed a million,” he said. “Of course, I don’t think all 54 will apply.”

Halber praised Montgomery County for providing the funds.

“Providing security to its citizens is the No. 1 responsibility of any local government, and I think our government here has been very, very responsible in acknowledging and understanding and appreciating what it is.”

It is not common for local counties to provide such funding for faith-based institutions, and Halber said that he hoped that the move will encourage other local governments around the nation to follow suit.

“They can’t just rely on federal dollars to deal with the security needs of the Jewish community and others,” Halber said. My goal is eventually to get this program expanded beyond $700,000. I’d like to see it expanded eventually to $2 million or more. But certainly for now, we’re very, very grateful that the county executive is done, and this is going to go a long way to helping people. Antisemitism is maybe on the rise, but I have seen nothing but resilience from American Jews who are refusing to be scared or to not show their identity with pride.”