FCC’s temporary waiver will help track bomb threats against Jewish community centers

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer says after his push, the Federal Communications Commission agreed to grant a temporary emergency waiver to all Jewish Community Centers that have been targeted as part of the recent wave of bomb threats.

“I applaud the FCC’s decision to grant a special waiver to targeted JCCs, which will help us track down and identify perpetrators making threatening calls that frighten communities and waste the precious resources of local law enforcement,” Schumer said. “Already, one suspect has been taken into custody and I am hopeful (the) decision will help catch and deter any future copycats. All communities and entities targeted by intimidation and fear deserve access to all of the tools needed to ensure these criminals are brought to justice. I stand united with the members of the Jewish community in Westchester, on Long Island, in Staten Island — and with  every community across America targeted by hate — against fear, intolerance and intimidation.”

Since the beginning of 2017, there have been at least 69 incidents targeting 54 JCCs in 27 states.

Earlier this month, over the course of just one day, bomb threats were simultaneously made to JCCs in 11 states across the country.

In his letter to the FCC, Schumer said these centers need valuable intel to help stop the threats and thwart these phony calls that have a real economic and psychic impact.

Here’s a copy of Schumer’s letter:

Dear Chairman Pai,

I write to express my serious concerns surrounding the recent bomb threats made against Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) in New York and across the country. These senseless, hateful attacks are unacceptable and should be investigated thoroughly and expediently. I urge you to do everything in your power to track these perpetrators down and prevent future attacks.

As you may know, on Monday, February 27, 2017, bomb threats were simultaneously made to JCCs in 11 states across the nation. According to the JCC Association of North America, which is based in New York, the threats were called into schools and JCCs in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. In my home state of New York, JCCs in Long Island, Staten Island, and Westchester were evacuated following the anonymous threats, leading local police to exhaust precious resources to vacate premises and investigate the threat, none of which led to a substantive claim.

This is not the first incident of its kind. In fact, since the beginning of 2017, there have 69 incidents at 54 JCCs in 27 states, in addition to one Canadian providence. Monday’s incident makes this the fifth wave of threats in the past two months. The damage from these threats is far-reaching, often disrupting our classrooms and requiring the deployment of bomb squads and other SWAT equipment. As you can imagine, these attacks have traumatized the Jewish community and struck fear in homes across the country.  It is worth noting that many JCCs across the country serve as nursery schools for their broader community, meaning that those terrorized by these threats are often preschoolers, their families, and the adults who care for them. We must do everything possible to ensure our religious communities feel safe from attacks against their schools, their homes, and their burial grounds. 

The FCC has played a valuable role on this issue before. Last year, the Middletown School District of Middletown, NY, was similarly plagued by phone calls with terror threats, also known as “swatting.” The school district was unable to track the perpetrators, who hid behind blocked numbers. In response, former FCC Chairman Wheeler worked with us to pass a special waiver to allow the District to access the caller information of the individuals placing the threats. The access enabled critical school personnel and law enforcement officials to coordinate with one another in their attempts to quickly respond to swatting calls made to the School District. 

Given the recent uptick in these swatting incidents, I believe the current circumstances requires that your agency pursues similar extensive investigatory measures. In doing so, I urge you to coordinate your federal resources with local law enforcement across the nation to ensure they have the resources needed to thwart these attacks. In that vein, I respectfully inquire that you provide me and my staff with more information about the steps your agency will take to fulfill this request. Specifically, I ask:

1.       What actions has your agency taken to date in response to these bomb threats?

2.       Will you consider allowing JCCs to trace this call information, as the FCC did for the Middletown school district, in order to allow these calls to be properly investigated?

3.       What resources can your agency provide to local law enforcement to ensure they are equipped to thwart these attacks?

I look forward to hearing from you and to working with you on ways to prevent these threats in the future.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer