Now that the holiday season has arrived, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness is ramping up efforts to protect houses of worship across the state.

According to Homeland Security Director Jared Maples, video meetings are planned in the coming days with the New Jersey Interfaith Advisory Council, which includes the leaders of every major religious group in the Garden State.

“The main message is we don’t have a specific or credible threat against any specific house of worship or institution or facility,” he said. “However, there’s been a significant uptick in bias crime across the state, and graffiti and recruiting from white supremacist groups.”

Five people were killed at a kosher market in Jersey City on Dec. 10, 2019, when two armed assailants stormed the store and started shooting after they had killed a Jersey City police officer. Maples said threats continue to be made against Jewish institutions but also against other faiths.

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He said while the holiday season is a celebration of peace and goodwill for many, for certain individuals it’s a time of hatred and religious leaders must remain vigilant.

“The 'see something, say something' campaign becomes even more vital in the holiday season,” said Maples.

He stressed any unusual behavior at a house of worship is potentially dangerous and should be reported.

“If somebody is asking questions or coming in or maybe hanging around outside the church, synagogue, temple, mosque that isn’t ordinarily there, those are things we want to know about,” he said.

He also said it’s important for law enforcement to be made aware of any out-of-the-ordinary behavior as quickly as possible, so members of the community should not hesitate to speak up if they notice anything strange.

“When we stop these attacks, and we have stopped attacks, it’s because of the community,” he said.

Maples also noted the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness is always conducting security assessments at religious institutions and helping them with state and federal security grant opportunities.

“We recommend to all of our inter-faith partners to apply for those grants. We support every one of those,” he said.

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