Houston law enforcement agencies have responded to the January 15 terror attack and hostage incident in a suburban Dallas synagogue by vowing to protect faith communities from hate crimes or terrorism.
Dozens of law enforcement representatives and faith leaders in Houston sent a message to potential terrorists during a press conference.
“We will find you, we will fight to arrest you, we will fight to prosecute you, we will fight to hold you with sufficient bail, we will fight to convict you and imprison you,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg declared.
Cooperation between law enforcement and religious communities proved valuable in the Colleyville synagogue incident, and Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker thanked the FBI and local police for prior training in preparation for potential hate crimes.
After the hostage crisis had dragged on for 11 hours with the attacker becoming increasingly belligerent, Cytron-Walker decided to take action. He waited for the right moment, then hurled a chair at the assailant, buying enough time for himself and two others to escape.
“Over the years, my congregation and I have participated in multiple security courses from the Colleyville Police Department, the FBI, the Anti-Defamation League, and Secure Community Network,” Cytron-Walker said in a written statement to CNN. “We are alive today because of that education.”
With anti-Semitic attacks on the rise, congregations throughout Texas and around the country have been on the alert. “This is something we have sadly come to prepare for — hopefully not something we have to expect ever again — but it has become part of the reality of the lived experience of being Jewish in America,” Rabbi Oren Hayon with Congregation Emanuel in Houston told KHOU 11.
FBI agents at the press conference decried the acts of hate and assured their commitment to fighting dangerous extremists.
“At the FBI, we never lose sight of the danger extremists pose to the Jewish community and other religious, racial and ethnic groups. Members of the faith community should not have to worry about threats of violence at their place of worship,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Richard Collodi with the FBI’s Houston office said. “To be targeted at your place of worship, a space meant to be a sanctuary, is among the most heinous acts of violence to be committed.”
Faith leader Renee Wizig-Barrios, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, said the event was a wakeup call for the Jewish community to implement greater security measures.
Wizig-Barrios said the plan is to hire a full-time security director to implement training with help from local law enforcement. The training will focus on active shooter incidents, hostage scenarios and more.
“This situation is scary, and we stand in solidarity with the community — Jewish and all other faith communities, Christian, Muslim and all others,” Wizig-Barrios added.
The DA also promised to crack down on hate crimes by prosecuting more cases and handing down tougher punishments for offenders.
Following the terror attack, law enforcement agencies across Texas, including Fort Worth and Harris County, have started increasing patrols near synagogues.
The LAPD released a similar announcement on Twitter that it would increase patrols near synagogues as a “precautionary measure.”