HomeArkansas newsArkansas takes steps to bolster security for religious nonprofits

Arkansas takes steps to bolster security for religious nonprofits

Arkansas – The state of Arkansas, in light of the recent conflict in the Middle East and rising safety concerns, is taking proactive measures to enhance the security of religious nonprofits at risk of violence. This move is a part of a broader initiative by the state to ensure the safety and security of its residents amid growing global tensions.

Strengthening Security in a Time of Need

Arkansas Division of Emergency Management Director A.J. Gary and Secretary of Public Safety Col. Mike Hagar appeared before the Arkansas Legislative Council on November 17, 2023, to discuss a potential grant that aims to improve security measures for religious nonprofits. This discussion comes after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, which has heightened tensions between Israel and Palestinian militants, raising concerns about the safety of certain groups within Arkansas.

Arkansas lawmakers have proposed directing $500,000 in state funds to assist these nonprofits. This grant, requested by Col. Mike Hagar on Nov. 2, is specifically aimed at supporting physical security enhancements and other necessary activities to protect nonprofits at high risk of terrorist attacks.

The Arkansas Legislative Council’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) subcommittee initially tabled the request, seeking more details about how the Department of Public Safety (DPS) would assess risk and the protective measures required. Lawmakers have expressed the need for DPS to ensure that funds are not allocated to groups that might support or incite violence.

Grant Distribution and Oversight

The state Division of Emergency Management already distributes approximately $2.5 million in federal grant funds annually to nonprofits for security purposes. The new state funds will specifically target religious nonprofits, using the federal grant model as a guideline.

DPS, the State Police, and the Arkansas State Fusion Center will evaluate applications for this grant. The authorities have noticed an uptick in threats, particularly towards the Jewish community since Oct. 7. DPS relies on various state and federal partners to assess the risk of terrorist threats.

Col. Hagar highlighted the difficulty in quantifying threats but noted an increase in site visits and online chatter that indicates a heightened risk. The upcoming religious holidays are likely to further increase these threats.

Addressing Concerns and Moving Forward

Rep. Fran Cavenaugh raised concerns about potential constitutionality issues in the distribution of grant funds, emphasizing the need to avoid disputes over the allocation process. In response, Col. Hagar agreed to provide quarterly reports to the Legislative Council on the use of the grant funds and a list of nonprofits that have received federal grant money for security purposes.

In a separate but related development, the Legislative Council approved over $12.5 million in federal funds for four rural Arkansas hospitals for costs incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic, continuing the state’s efforts to support its healthcare system during challenging times.

Arkansas lawmakers have now allocated nearly $40 million in American Rescue Plan Act relief for 10 rural hospitals, demonstrating the state’s commitment to addressing both health and safety issues amidst ongoing global and local challenges.

Olivia Martinez

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