Southern Arizona Jewish community invests in security and combats anti-Semitism

The Southern Arizona Jewish community continues to adopt a strong stance against anti-Semitism and act boldly to prevent attacks against our institutions and constituents. Community leadership continues to advance this priority in both funding and action in 2021.

Recent History of Our Program

In March 2019, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona (JFSA) hired 24-year law enforcement and security veteran Paul Patterson as the Jewish community security director. The creation of his position was in response to anti-Semitic attacks around the country, including Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue massacre, and was enabled by funding from key community leaders in partnership with the Jewish Community Foundation (JCF).

“In these unprecedented times, the security of our community is of the utmost importance,” said Maralyn Goldstein. “To feel safe and secure no matter what sect, faith or belief must be a principle guiding force for our lives.”

Security director Chelsea Guiterrez at JFSA’s November 17 event honoring Stu and Nancy Mellan

In March 2020, Patterson teamed with Chelsea Gutierrez to further efforts around local vigilance against anti-Semitic crime. Gutierrez is a former intelligence analyst for the United States Air Force and retired Tucson Police Department (TPD) officer with a bachelor’s degree in public safety and emergency management from Grand Canyon University.

Both Patterson and Gutierrez, who each job-share the full-time-equivalent position, are linked into the national Secure Community Network (SCN), 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.

The two security directors work closely with federal and local law enforcement partners to mitigate risks, identify threats, and identify training needs. Patterson and Gutierrez are part of the FBI’s office house of worship working group and work with the Tucson Police Department as members of the civilian hate crimes review board.

They monitor all Jewish facilities regularly and have completed security evaluations for the majority of Tucson Jewish agencies. They maintain regular communication with Jewish community leadership and are available to respond to threats when presented with them. They have conducted 12 active shooter trainings at Jewish organizations and agencies.

An upcoming security training, entitled “Safer Together: Security Training for the Jewish Community of Southern Arizona,” is planned April 15, 2021 from 6:00-7:00 pm for all community members. The event is chaired by Jody Gross and has been designed to ensure preparedness for a return to in-person activities as vaccine availability increases. Community members can register now at this link.

Evolving Priorities

Although a decrease in large in-person gatherings due to the pandemic led to a marked diminishment of concern around security in these situations, cyber security risks grew at an alarming rate in 2020-2021. The priorities of our security directors remain fixed – to protect our community from threats as they arise. Anti-Semitic activity online, especially in protest-related formats, continue to increase. In general, this challenging time in the history of our nation and world has led to a rise in anti-Semitic hatred.

It is unclear what the exact impact national trends will have on Tucson. However, we have seen some activity in the form of attempted cyber attacks and suspicious packages in the past year. Thankfully, neither of these was been specifically targeted nor anti-Semitic, yet Patterson and Gutierrez have handled the situations in such a way as to protect our community. Additionally, there has been hate-based activity around white nationalism and violent protests. Concerns at Arizona State University in Phoenix, specifically multiple posters claiming, “Hitler was right,” remind us of the need to stay vigilant.

Gutierrez also recently sent out an email to all JFSA and JCF staff members advising them of departmental changes at the Tucson Police Department including a “critical and dire staffing shortage” which she called “disheartening at best.” Resources will be diverted, where possible to those incidents that are not “serious, violent, or life-threatening.” She reminded staff that her and Patterson remain “dedicated to assisting the Jewish communication in all areas pertaining to your safety.”

“In partnership with the security directors, Jewish community professional leadership, donors, and volunteers are actively working to keep our Southern Arizona community safe in 2021 and beyond,” says Federation & Foundation President and CEO, Graham Hoffman “Community security remains an incredibly important priority now and for the future.

Local Jewish community security concerns should be addressed to JFSA at (520) 577-9393.