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Officials Increase Security Following Monsey Hanukkah Stabbings

WAMC, Allison Dunne

Authorities in the Rockland County Town of Ramapo are taking measures to increase security following the stabbings during a Hanukkah celebration nearly one week ago in the hamlet of Monsey. The town police chief also spoke to reporters about the suspect’s possible connection to another stabbing in Monsey in November.

Ramapo Town Supervisor Michael Specht says there are new short- and long-term security measures in place since the December 28 stabbings at a rabbi’s home in the Hasidic community of Monsey, including increased patrols. He believes the community feels a bit safer nearly one week since the attack.

“People are a bit calmer. They see the police out there. They understand that the [alleged] perpetrator’s in custody. So I think people are still afraid, people are still apprehensive, and that’s not going to let up anytime soon. But I think there’s been, from the people I’ve spoken about in the community, they’re reassured by the presence of our police, the sheriff, the state police out there,” says Specht. “I think that people have expressed to me they see that the town is doing all that it can to keep things as safe as possible. So I don’t want to say that there’s no fear, that’s not true, but I think there’s a little bit of a calming now, but we want to make people feel safer and we want people get to the point where they’ll always be aware of having to be safe but able to get back to their normal lives.”

Rabbi Hersh Horowitz runs the Community Outreach Center in Ramapo.

“This town has been one of the safest towns and it will return that way,” Horowitz says. “We will be a safe town.”

He says the increased police presence is helping.

“We’ve seen an increased presence and, for the most part, it was able to calm some of the fear, and we hope that we continue to see that even more in the schools and in the synagogues, especially over the weekend when people in our community will not be driving in cars, they’ll be walking a lot in the streets,” says Horowitz. “We hope we’ll be able to see them a lot out in there in their presence, and they’ve assured us that they will be there.”

Specht says the increased patrols will continue as long as is deemed necessary. And he says license plate readers will be installed at every town entrance and exit, at a cost of up to $2 million and several hundred thousand dollars per year for maintenance. The town is seeking funding via state and federal grants and other avenues.

“If you come into the Town of Ramapo with the intent to harm any member of our community, we will find you, we will catch you and we will stop you,” Specht says.

The suspect, Grafton Thomas, was apprehended because of a license plate reader in New York City. Specht also wants to increase lighting and install the town’s first surveillance cameras.

“When it comes to the cameras, when it comes to the LPRs, license plate readers, these are not to spy on people, these are not to issue traffic tickets,” Specht says. “These are to be used solely for law enforcement means to deter and apprehend violent criminals.”

Another potential measure hails from Israel. Mona Montal is Specht’s chief of staff.

“A smart panic button called the Gabriel will be made available and deployed across the community, putting some of the world’s smartest technologies in the hands of our constituents,” Montal says. “Gabriel, designed and developed in Israel, provides live video and audio feeds to emergency services and responders in the event of an attack.”

Montal says Ramapo would be the first U.S. municipality to implement the system.

“I actually am involved in a technology group, always looking for new technologies, specifically in regard to what’s coming out of Israel because we know they have some of the best technology out there. I contacted the company, I think it was about six months ago. They mentioned to me that they really were not here yet in the United States and, as soon as they were, they would let me know,” says Montal. “Mid-November, they contacted me to say, let’s set up an appointment. Needless to say, we did it right away, and the owner of the company is flying in from Israel and will meet with me on Sunday.”

She says he’ll demo the system and start a pilot program. Montal says 10 units, each of which are about the size of a smoke detector, are estimated to cost about $30,000. She says the company would donate a few for the pilot, and the town will work to get funding for the rest. Rabbi Horowitz is interested in learning more.

“Well, I would like to see a demo of it to see how it’s demonstrated but I think potentially it can be huge, it can be very beneficial to the community,” says Horowitz.

Meantime, police are investigating whether there is a link between a stabbing in November and the December 28 machete attack, both in Monsey. Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel says that Thomas was questioned by police in connection with the November stabbing of an Orthodox Jewish man, also in Monsey. Weidel refers to the Hanukkah celebration stabbings by the name of the road.

“Forshay Road happens, this individual’s taken into custody by NYPD, and we hear the name, and the detectives go, wait a minute, isn’t that the guy we interviewed from Greenwood Lake? Weidel says. “And the answer is yes.”

Weidel says he has no evidence that Thomas, who faces federal hate crime charges in the machete attack, was involved in the November stabbing, but the investigations into both continue. Thomas’ attorney, Michael Sussman, has requested that Thomas, who he maintains has a history of mental illness, undergo a mental health evaluation. Sussman released a statement on behalf of Grafton’s family saying Thomas has no known history of anti-Semitism.

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