At the Islamic Center of San Diego in Clairmont Mesa, an outfitted gatekeeper remains before a locked entryway. Walls and surveillance cameras encompass the structure, while bullet proof glass lines the playground.
For Imam Hassane, they’re currently an important piece of religious practice in the wake of present day.
“Yes, we want to be and to look like a welcoming place. Everybody’s welcome anytime. But, at the same time, given the fact of what’s going on around the nation, we have to do our best to secure and keep our people safe.”
Adding the additional layers of security costs a bit. For that, Hassane and numerous other religious and mainstream non-profits have fallen back on grants from the State and Federal Government.
The latest round of “Target Hardening” grants came from the California Office of Emergency Services. In January, they declared 290 beneficiaries of over $40 million. With awardees receiving as much as $200,000 each.
San Diego alone accounted for 26 of the total areas, pulling in more than $4.5 million.
“It’s such a mixed blessing,” says Heidi Gantwerk, the President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County,” Gantwerk continued. “What a sad statement that we need to raise that much money and spend that much money on making houses of worship and preschools and playgrounds secure.”
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This is the kind of thing that will lend safety to these religious places, and one the school system would only benefit from adopting. Even if a criminal were to bypass some of these systems, it would help buy time for people to escape and give more time for authorities to arrive on scene to get the situation under control.
Some of the plans that were shared and detailed on how they plan to use the grant included infrastructure overhauls such as bullet proof glass, better fencing, surveillance cameras, and the sky is the limit from there. An arrangement to employ armed guards to safeguard individuals during programming.
However, they likewise referenced a need to guarantee any security enhancements fit inside their desires to be an welcoming place for worship and community.
“It is tough, but that’s something that has to be done,” says Pervez Mobin, the Facilities Chair at the Greater San Diego Muslim Community Center. “Basically, all these events that happened over the past week or so make this a serious project.”
Rise in hate crimes across the U.S. has been met with a rise in ascent in financing for projects such as these. However, not all the cash goes towards actual security. The Anti-Defamation League runs preparation training for local religious groups to show them how to be more aware of their surroundings and how to act during different situations of danger, along with de-escalating tactics, and other “low to no cost” ways of keeping the area protected.
“We stress the value of having ushers and greeters and roamers, who are trained to welcome individuals to the facility, while at the same time assessing those individuals,” Matthew with the ADL continued. “If you have a house of worship, you can be targeted. And it’s incumbent upon you to take some measures.”
In order to qualify for the grants, non-profits need to submit very detailed plans on how they tend to utilize the funds, among with other requirements such as audits to make sure the funds aren’t being misused, and construction offers from three different organizations.
“We’re just doing our best. Whatever is available to do. Taking our precautions,” says Imam Hassane. “And praying. Prayer is very powerful too.”