The hostage crisis at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas earlier this year shined a light on the vulnerabilities that still exist for houses of worship. For Metro Nashville Police Department Chief John Drake, it was a wakeup call that more needed to be done to secure synagogues, churches, mosques, and other faith-based locations. The result was the creation of a Faith-based Liaison, a position within the Police Department that works to bridge what he saw to be a gap in the community. Dr. Anita Herron is the new Faith-based Liaison. She says the most important part of the job is education. “The plan is to help teach local police what is needed to accommodate each faith group,” she says. To facilitate that education members of MNPD’s leadership meets each month with a different faith group. Recently, close to 60 members of the department met at the Gordon Jewish Community Center to listen and learn from Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee’s leaders. The gathering was attended by Police Department leaders at the Community Coordinator level and above, including Chief Drake. Long term, Dr. Herron says the hope is to build awareness among the entire department, “It will trickle down to the patrolmen. There are 600 square miles in Nashville, and we want to be transparent about what they see, and what our citizens see.”
Nashville’s growth in both population and diversity means greater diversity in religious groups. But the growth also means some groups are more vulnerable to hate crimes. Dr. Herron says this is why the Faith-based initiative is a top priority for the MNPD. “We can’t take things for granted anymore,” she says, “We want to make sure there are already measures in place for those faiths that are targets for hate crimes.” Top among those is the Jewish community. According to the Anti-Defamation League, Jews remain the most targeted religious group in the country. That is why building a strong relationship with law enforcement is so important. Eric Stillman, CEO of The Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee says, “Jewish Federation is grateful for the willingness of MNPD to learn about the Jewish community, history, religion, and ritual practices. It is through this deeper understanding on the part of MNPD leadership and officers that will increase safety and security for the Jewish community.”
In addition to the Faith-based Liaison, MNPD offers other support services for those who are victims of crime. The recent arrival in Nashville of Afghan immigrants is highlighting the need for increased awareness of services, as well as advocacy for those in need. Elizabeth Thomas is the Refugee and Immigrant Advocate for MNPD’s Family Intervention Program. She attended the session with the Jewish Federation and says for her it was a good opportunity to connect with those in the Jewish community who are assisting the Afghan allies. “It’s important to build that rapport and be there with information if someone experiences any type of crime.” She says free and confidential services are available regardless of citizenship status. “Our community partners, like the Jewish Federation and the District Attorney’s office are our main source of referrals.” Thomas says a top priority of her office is educating people about their rights.
Part of the Jewish community’s ongoing focus on security includes helping local law enforcement develop a deeper understanding of historic concerns. During the Faith-based meeting, participants visited Tennessee State Holocaust Memorial. Deborah Oleshansky, Director of the Jewish Community Relations Committee says, “For some people it was the first time they had visited, and some didn’t even know there was a Holocaust memorial in Nashville.” The visit provided an opportunity for gaining greater insights about Jewish experiences and was a vehicle for making new connections. Beth Thomas says, “It was a very meaningful interaction. And it gave me a chance to meet Federation staff who are coordinating assistance efforts for the Afghan immigrants. And as I was leaving, I was able to meet the local Imam who also was there.” And according to many participants, it is this deeper level of understanding that leads to preparedness when something does happen. Oleshansky says, “We can’t always work from a crisis. The relationships we are building with [local law enforcement] is giving us a foundation to build on.”