New Jersey requires houses of worship to have security plans

(The Center Square) ā€“ Churches, synagogues and other houses of worship in New Jersey will be required, along with large entertainment venues to have security plans for dealing with mass shootings or attacks under a bill signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy.

The new law will require large sports and entertainment facilities with a capacity of more than 5,000 people, movie theaters seating more than 1,000 people, and places of worship seating more than 500 people, to have security plans in place to deal with emergencies. Those plans must be approved by local police.

Murphy said the ongoing spate of mass shootings nationwide “underscores the critical need for state, local, and community partners to work together to ensure the highest standards of public safety are being met.”

“It is clear that we must do everything in our power to protect our communities and our residents from the senseless gun violence that plagues our country,” the Democrat said in a statement.

Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said the safety plan requirements will allow officers responding to an active shooting incident to “act swiftly and with precision” to save lives.

“Our response to gun violence must remain proactive, not reactive,” Platkin said in a statement. “Security plans play an important role in how quickly and effectively law enforcement can respond to emergencies, and protect the safety of our residents.”

The legislation didn’t include any funding for faith organizations or facilities to pay for the safety plans and other enhancements.

The new requirements also come amid heightened concerns about religiously motivated attacks on synagogues, churches and other houses of worship.

Earlier this month, the FBI put out a statement on social media saying it had received “credible information of a broad threat to synagogues” in New Jersey.

Representatives of churches, synagogues and other houses of worship in New Jersey welcomed the changes, which they say will improve safety and communication with police and other first responders in the event of an emergency.

Rev. Kenneth D.R. Clayton, a senior pastor at St. Luke Baptist Church in Paterson, said the state’s new requirement is “vital importance” for houses of worship “in light of the current climate” of mass shootings and religiously motivated attacks nationwide.

“It will cause houses of worship and other public venues to plan for and be proactive about such possible occurrences and in so doing lives could be spared death and possible harm,” Clayton said.

“It is so important for houses of worship to work closely with local law enforcement to help keep communities safe,” Rabbi Laibel Schapiro, of Chabad of the Shore in West End, who also supports the changes. “This open communication will lead to a more safe and secure environment for people of all faiths and religions.”

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