California adds new funding for nonprofit security


California’s budget, signed into law this week by Gov. Jerry Brown, includes roughly $2 million to help fund security at nonprofit organizations that are at risk of violent attack. 

This new state grant program arrives at a time when many Jewish institutions are experiencing a heightened sense of fear because of an increase in the number of violent attacks worldwide by right-wing and Islamic extremists.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles led the effort to create the new funding program, which matches the amount allocated to California by a similar federal nonprofit security initiative that has faced significant cuts in recent years, reflecting a decrease in overall federal discretionary spending. 

As for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, the federal security initiative, “The $2.1 million that was coming to California just wasn’t enough to meet the demand,” said Jesse Gabriel, the Federation board member who spearheaded the effort. 

Gabriel is on the board of Federation’s Community Engagement Strategic Initiative, which worked with state Sen. Ben Allen of Santa Monica and Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Los Angeles to establish the new budget item. 

“We thought that given that the federal program is so oversubscribed that there is an important role for the state to step in here,” Gabriel said.

The new program is intended to alleviate the financial burden cash-strapped nonprofits can experience when implementing new security measures. It will fund physical security enhancements, including reinforced doors, alarms and high-intensity lighting, as well as security training. 

A few widely publicized incidents in particular have caused an uptick in anxiety in the Jewish community about anti-Semitic violence: a deadly shooting on a Jewish community center in Kansas City, Mo., in April 2014, a shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels in May 2014, and deadly attacks earlier this year at a kosher market in Paris and a synagogue in Copenhagen. 

Additionally, the FBI recently advised some Jewish institutions in California of new information suggesting threats, according to materials provided by the Federation. 

“It’s a sad fact that anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world. The number of violent incidents over the last year, from the attack on the Jewish community center near Kansas City last year to the more recent incidents in Paris and Charleston, S.C., underscores the unfortunate reality that many of our nonprofit organizations are at high risk for terrorist acts,” Bloom said in a statement. “Providing this funding so that these organizations can better protect themselves is the least we can do.”

Many other communities — including African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Sikhs, immigrants, Asian-Americans, people living with disabilities and the LGBT community — are also facing an increase in hate-motivated violence, as evidenced by the murder of nine
African-Americans in a church in Charleston in June and the killing of three Muslim-American students in North Carolina in February. 

“I’m really proud that this program is going to help a lot of synagogues and Jewish community centers, but I’m also really proud that this is going to help African-American organizations, and Muslim-Americans, and the LGBT community,” Gabriel said. “I think this is a great example of the Federation doing work that benefits not only the Jewish community, but the broader community as well.”

Through its Community Security Initiative, Federation will continue to offer assistance to Jewish organizations seeking state and federal security grants, and for the first time will conduct outreach to other communities that might benefit from the funding. 

The federal program, created in 2005, has faced deep cuts in recent years. In its 2015 budget, Congress allocated $13 million to the program, $2.1 million of which is earmarked for nonprofits in California. With the addition of the state program, that number soon will double. 

As with the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program, the new state funding will be available to eligible nonprofits through grants from the California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), formerly known as the California Emergency Management Agency. 

Cal OES will determine eligibility rules in the coming months, although those rules are expected to resemble the federal grant program, which looks at a history of attacks or threats against an organization or similar organizations, the symbolic or historic value of the site or institution, and the role of an organization in responding to a possible terrorist attack.