In-Depth: Grants help San Diego faith-based groups improve security

Recent shootings underscore need for safety
Posted at 6:13 AM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 16:24:24-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - At the Islamic Center of San Diego in Clairemont Mesa, an armed guard stands in front of a locked door. Fences and security cameras surround the building. Bullet-proof glass lines the playground.

For Imam Taha Hassane, they're now a necessary part of religious practice.

"It's a very hard choice, a very hard decision to make," Imam Hassane says, when asked how his center balances the desire to be open and welcoming with the need for safety in the wake of so many recent, deadly shootings.

"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 extra layers of security costs money. For that, Hassane and dozens of other religious and secular non-profits have leaned on grants from the State and Federal Government.

The most recent round of "Target Hardening" grants came from the California Office of Emergency Services. In January, they announced 290 recipients of $47.5 million. Awardees got as much as $200,000 each.

In San Diego alone, 26 locations pulled in just over $4.5 million (see list below).

"It's such a mixed blessing," says Heidi Gantwerk, the President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County.

"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."

Gantwerk pointed to a recent Anti-Defamation League study that found anti-semitic attacks had increased by 34% across the country, and 61% against Jewish institutions.

"If you look at the manifesto of the buffalo shooter, if you look at Tree of Life, and if you look at Poway right here in San Diego, this is not you know, something theoretical," she says. "This is real and Jewish organizations are being targeted."

That's why the Jewish Federation helped more than a dozen synagogues and Jewish community centers apply for and receive the recent round of Cal-OES money.

ABC 10News reached out to nearly all of the 26 locations to find out how they would spend the money. Most declined to comment. Their representatives said they didn't want to give away security information or do anything that would increase their visibility and make them a likely target.

The ones that did share plans say they will use the money for infrastructure upgrades like fencing, bullet-proof glass, security cameras, and more. Some plan to hire armed guards to protect members during programming.

But they also mentioned a need to ensure any security improvements fit within their desire to be an inviting 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."

A rise in hate crimes across the US has been met with a rise in funding for projects like these. In 2019, Cal-OES gave out $15 million for "Target Hardening." That number has more than tripled.

The Department of Homeland Security distributed $180 million in 2021 through its "Nonprofit Security Grant Program." This year that number is up to $250 million. DHS officials say they have asked for $360 million in the 2023 budget.

Not all of the money goes towards physical security. The Anti-Defamation League runs training for local religious groups to teach them situational awareness, threat assessment, de-escalation techniques, and other "low or no-cost" ways to maintain a secure location. Funding from these grants can be used to pay for training like this.

"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," says Matthew Brown with the ADL.

"If you have a house of worship, you can be targeted. And it's incumbent upon you to take some measures."

To get the Cal-OES grants, non-profits had to submit detailed plans for how they would spend the money. They also had to get construction bids from at least three different companies. And Cal-OES will conduct audits of the projects to make sure none of the funds are misused.

"We're just doing our best. Whatever is available to do. Taking our precautions," says Imam Hassane. "And praying. Prayer is very powerful too."

Here is the full list of San Diego organizations that received "Target Hardening" grants from Cal-OES, as well as the dollar amount awarded to each:

  • Chabad Center of University City ($200,000)
  • Chabad Center of Oceanside (198,135)
  • Chabad of Downtown ($195,300)
  • Christ the King Lutheran Church, Fallbrook ($196,354)
  • Congregation Adat Yeshurun ($200,000)
  • Congregation Beth Am ($200,000)
  • Foothills Christian, El Cajon ($198,000)
  • Friends of Chabad Lubavitch, San Diego ($200,000)
  • Greater San Diego Muslim Community Center ($200,000)
  • Holy Cross Coptic Orthodox Church, Escondido ($200,000)
  • Islamic Center of San Diego ($195,000)
  • Jewish Family Service San Diego ($136,013)
  • Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center of San Diego ($200,000)
  • Neighborhood Healthcare, El Cajon ($76,282)
  • Ohr Shalom Synagogue ($72,383)
  • Pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Parish, Coronado ($157,975)
  • San Diego Jewish Academy ($105,000)
  • Self Realization Fellowship Church, Encinitas ($129,953)
  • Sonrise Christian Fellowship Church, Fallbrook ($135,000)
  • St. Vincent de Paul Village, San Diego ($200,000)
  • Temple Adat Shalom, Poway ($200,000)
  • Temple Emanu-El ($200,000)
  • Temple Solel, Northern San Diego County ($154,533)
  • The Sikh Foundation, Poway ($200,000)
  • Tifereth Israel Synagogue ($150,481)
  • Zoological Society of SD/SDZWA ($200,000)