Shawn Brokos, recently retired from the FBI after a 24-year career there, begins her new role as the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s director of community security on Jan. 13.
A longtime colleague of Brad Orsini, the Federation’s first director of community security, Brokos intends to continue the work he initiated, emphasizing education, prevention and response.
Orsini, who began his tenure as Jewish Pittsburgh’s security director in 2017 — and saw the community through the massacre at the Tree of Life building in 2018 — has been tapped to become the senior national security advisor for the Secure Community Network with the Jewish Federations of North America and will be leaving his post in Pittsburgh on Jan. 10.
“I have known Brad since 1996, and I have followed a very similar career path,” said Brokos, a native of Philadelphia. “When he knew he was leaving (the Federation), he called and asked if I would be interested in this position. And the timing worked out well, because I was eligible to retire from the FBI in September of 2019. We began the discussion, and the job sounded fascinating and sounded like it would be a natural progression for me leaving the FBI, and what I did with my work there.”
Brokos has lived in Pittsburgh since 2013, along with her husband, who also is an FBI agent. She most recently served as a supervisory special agent in the FBI’s Pittsburgh office, managing complex investigations involving hate crimes, corrupt officials and complex financial frauds. She frequently worked with Orsini “in a liaison capacity, helping out with potential threats to the Jewish community,” she said.
Brokos also served as a crisis management coordinator for the FBI, with her work including the management of the agency’s response to the massacre at the Tree of Life building.
Orsini’s passing the baton to Brokos “will not be a large transition,” said Brokos. “Our approach to situations is going to be largely similar, and how we interact with people is also very similar.”
With significant experience in community outreach and in bringing awareness of hate crimes and civil rights to the general public, Brokos will be doing a lot of outreach. Public awareness and education is crucial, she said, as recent national statistics show that hate crimes are “becoming more violent in nature,” and that “the threat against the Jewish community is considered the largest threat of any ethnic or marginalized group.”
Brokos will be making security training for communal institutions a priority, as did Orsini, who trained 2,205 people in Greater Pittsburgh in 2017, his first year on the job. In 2018, Orsini trained 5,183 people, and in 2019, that number grew to 7,682.
“To me, training is essential for prevention,” Brokos said, adding that although many in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community already have received training, refresher courses are vital because response techniques continue to be updated. It is also crucial for community members to practice what they have learned.
“The more we do it, the more ingrained it will become with people,” Brokos said. “If you train once a year, it may be the greatest training in the world, but muscle memory proves that you’ll walk away and you may retain it for a bit. But if you keep training, you’re more inclined to remember what you’ve learned and how to best respond.”
She also plans to continue several initiatives begun by Orsini to help secure and harden Jewish communal facilities.
“One of the initiatives is the alert systems, which I won’t go into detail about, but we’ve gone out to bid to obtain alert systems for the three (day) schools,” Brokos said. “And then, after we fully equip the three schools with these alert systems, we move on to the 11 (Jewish) early learning centers. Protecting children is absolutely a priority.”
Go Bags — containing first aid items as well as tools such as flashlights, hammers, whistles and charging devices — will eventually be placed in each classroom of the three day schools and all Jewish early learning centers.
Brokos acknowledged that there are current threats against the Jewish community here, which are being investigated by law enforcement. She would not elaborate on the nature of the threats because the investigations are ongoing.
“We are following those very closely,” she said. “We are actively addressing the threats in an effort to do everything we can to protect the community. The partnership between the Federation and law enforcement is so strong and we continually monitor these threats in an effort to be proactive, and not reactive. I don’t want to instill fear in the community, but I want there to be a healthy awareness.”
With the rise in hate crimes against the Jewish community nationwide, and the proliferation of hateful speech on social media, Brokos encourages community members to report to her any perceived threat. Anything “suspicious in nature” should be reported, she stressed.
“Something that may seem so insignificant or inconsequential may be part of a larger threat or activity,” she said. “We don’t dismiss anything in law enforcement, we run every bit of information we get, we vet it out to its entirety, because you just don’t know.”
Currently working on a master’s in professional counseling at Carlow University, Brokos also plans to implement trauma management training for the Pittsburgh Jewish community. She views such training as particularly salient here in the continuing aftermath of the trauma of Oct. 27, 2018.
In a written announcement regarding the hiring of Brokos, David Ainsman, chair of the Federation’s security committee, praised her “distinguished career in the FBI,” and noted that she has been “involved in major investigations in her career and received numerous awards for her achievements.”
Brokos “was awarded the FBI Directors award for excellence for her work in training law enforcement,” Ainsman wrote, adding that she “has been very involved with the Jewish Community in Pittsburgh monitoring and mitigating threats that affect our community over the last few years…. With the hiring of Shawn, we will have no gaps in our security program for the community.” pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at