How New Jersey is working to prevent hate crimes

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Funerals began Tuesday for victims of an anti-Semitic slaughter inside a Pittsburgh Synogogue. Flags over state offices in New Jersey fly at half staff in memoriam. The state’s Director of Homeland Security is working to prevent that kind of hate from being played out here. Jared Maples joins Correspondent Leah Mishkin.

We have a lot to cover, so I’m just going to jump right in starting with the latest attack in Pittsburgh. Eleven people killed at a synagogue, and this gunman, now we know that he was posting anti-Semitic remarks on social media. So my question for you is, how do you go about monitoring the social media platforms, and at what point do they get onto your radar?

Maples: As far as our social media monitoring, we do monitor social media across the state, along with the Attorney General’s Office, who has the Bias Crimes Unit. The answer of where it becomes an issue, from a criminal perspective, really lies within the Attorney General’s Office. We work hand-in-hand with them to determine, we show the threat, certainly, and make sure that they’re aware of what the incidents are. And they have a pretty good methodology for determining what is a biased crime versus a biased incident. As far as the monitoring goes, it is, again, something that we do regularly. We have analytical products that we push out when we see various narratives pushed out from the groups that come up in the state — anti-Semitic, white supremacists, anarchists — all the variety of the domestic extremists that we know are here in our state.

Mishkin: And how do you monitor them? Is there a system? Are you looking for keywords? You know, what exactly is that process?

Maples: Yeah, without getting too far into the specifics, there is a technology available, certainly, with keyword searches. The State Police also maintain a great ability as well, from a technology perspective, that we do monitor those systems. And again, at social media, in this case it was Gab, the platform that was used. But Twitter and Facebook and all the social medias, and we try to work as best we can with those companies as well.

Mishkin: And there was a statistic that’s been put out — a pretty powerful number. The Anti-Defamation League says 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic attacks last year alone. What is your message to these places of worship, these soft targets. What advice do you give them?

Maples: We team up with the ADL with a lot of those analytical products and we certainly give them our full support. Those numbers are staggering, and what I would say message wise is I’ve led a lot of events, unfortunately the synagogues the last couple days, both with the governor and with various officials — the attorney general, the colonel of the State Police and myself — and I’ve said there is no place for hate here in New Jersey. That’s a strong message. I cannot be any clearer that that is there is no place for hate here in New Jersey. As far as our faith-based partners and interfaith groups across the state, we offer a ton of security resources. We can talk about it a lot. We really believe in action and making sure that we’re showing what we can do to secure those populations — the congregations, the flocks, if you will. We offer security grants, for example. Both federal and state, my office administers those. We also offer free security assessments of facilities. So we’ll come out with subject matter experts and identify gaps in areas that they could improve and enhance.

Mishkin: I was at a synagogue yesterday getting reaction about the shooting, and the rabbi said in the last few years they’ve hired two armed security guards. Do you believe that having armed presence at these softer targets is a good strategy?

Maples: Certainly having security present is something that we know is a best practice. There is definitely an advantage to that. The federal program allows for locks, security enhancements, alarms, etc. The state grants, Secure NJ, actually provides for overtime for security personnel on scene there at the facilities.

Mishkin: Sen. Cory Booker, there was a package intended for him, and it was intercepted in Florida. So how do you go about realizing what packages are threats, and then how do you intercept them before they get to their intended target?

Maples: So the U.S. Postal Service has a fantastic program. It was really shown to have stopped a lot of the packages. I think they’re 14 total packages, and the vast majority were stopped at that facility in Florida, including Senator Booker’s package that was addressed to his Camden office here in New Jersey, but never made it past the facility in Florida. The Postal Service at Postal Inspectors, is what their law enforcement arm is called, and they have a variety of techniques — everything from explosive detection, balancing and weight calibrations of the packages — there’s a lot of different indicators and things that they’re looking for. From our perspective of Homeland Security in New Jersey, we try to put a product out, and we do this in conjunction with the FBI, the State Police, the Attorney General’s Office, making sure that the public is aware and people that deal with mail are aware of what to look for. So in this case, it was really almost textbook — too many stamps misspelled words, misspelled addresses, the wrong return address or maybe a return address that doesn’t make sense, oily stains or strange smells emitted from the device or the package itself — there’s a lot of different things that we know are key indicators of a potential dangerous package or suspicious package. So one, is we want to alert the public of what those indicators are, and again targeted, also, at the people at mail processing facilities, people that deal with these whether it be at the capitol or around our state. And then two, is where to go with it, right? Our normal information, it works for terrorism or cyber events, etc. which is 1-866-4-SAFE-NJ or and, quite frankly by calling 911 if they find those indicators and letting them know, because that will get it to the system as well.

Mishkin: We sat in this studio about five months ago, and we were talking about the Terrorism Threat Assessment Report for New Jersey for this year. I just want to read, domestic terrorism, the definition that was on that report — violence committed by individuals or groups including race-based, anti-government and religious extremist ideologies. Just in the past week in this nation, we’ve almost seen incidents in all those categories. So does that mean that you see this now as higher alert?

Maples: Domestic extremist is something we talked about for years. We do know that it is an issue. It’s certainly something we’ve put in our reports. It is, obviously, at the forefront over the past week, and it is something that we have elevated a ton of focus on. We’ve dedicated a lot of focus prior to this, but something certainly that we’re making sure we’re putting out among the public — the threats as we see them. The threats to make sure people are aware of the groups that are doing these things, of the individuals, in this case, an individual. They latch onto these ideologies. So it’s important for us to talk about them publicly and show what we know to be the threat, and then the public can be aware of those and be on the lookout for them, to report them.