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Southern AZ community security vigilance continues

Paul Patterson

Continued attacks on Jewish targets are a reminder that individual organizations clearly need to be more attentive, and they are stepping up to that,” says Stuart Mellan, CEO and president of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona. “We see a higher level of vigilance than ever before.”

“The Jewish community needs to do more, but that has always been the case, for the last 3,000 years,” says Paul Patterson, JFSA’s Jewish community security director. “The biggest goal is not to diagnose what happened but focus on building relationships that will help prevent further victimization. The next level of hatred is always working to find a way around whatever you do.”

JFSA took a proactive stance to harden local vigilance in March 2019, bringing on board 24-year law enforcement and security veteran Patterson to assist all area synagogues and Jewish agencies with facility security assessments, ensuring best practices, and up-to-date training. Perhaps just as important are the relationships he fosters with local law enforcement agencies and other churches and faith-based organizations that are facing similar issues, Mellan says.

When local law enforcement sees something happening nationally, they reach out to let the community know they are keeping an eye out, Mellan notes. The day following the stabbing of five people during a Hanukkah celebration at an Orthodox rabbi’s home in New York, Patterson received calls from local law enforcement leaders at the University of Arizona, Tucson Police Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation saying they were monitoring the situation.

“Tucson Police Hate & Bias Crimes Unit Det. Tristan Pittenridge said while there was no uptick of hate crime, we would notice a higher presence of police patrol at Jewish institutions,” Patterson says. “This attentiveness existed previously,” says Mellan. “What’s changed is that law enforcement knows and trusts Paul and knows where he is to reach out to. Whereas I got one call after the Gabby Giffords shooting in 2001, Paul got four.”

Patterson also is linked to the national Secure Community Network, part of the American Jewish community’s response to heightened security concerns in the United States. Under the auspices of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, SCN is the only national Jewish organization exclusively dedicated to homeland security initiatives on behalf of the American Jewish community. 

Patterson attended a national conference with other federation security directors where SCN introduced a standardized active-shooter training program for federations and formalized a standardized site assessment tool. Federation staff received the training and three site assessments with the new tool were completed during the past quarter. JFSA participates in the SCN’s Alert system that provides an instant text or email message tree to reach local affiliated agencies and synagogues with urgent messaging.

“We are fortunate to have Paul, who is highly skilled and goes above and beyond,” Mellan says. “Whatever he is called upon at the micro or macro level, he is proactive.” Patterson’s position is fully funded by the Federation, with support from local donors.