Walter A. McNeil, Chief of Police, Quincy Police Department, Quincy, Florida
n the 10 years since the horrific events of 9/11, law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and the world have worked tirelessly to protect their communities. During that time, law enforcement and homeland security officials have had a number of successes, thwarting aspiring terrorists before they could strike. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, some terrorist attacks have succeeded, and communities throughout the world have suffered.Because of their impact on national and international events, we—law enforcement leaders—often minimize the fact that these attacks are inherently local crimes that require the immediate response of state, local, or tribal authorities. The simple truth is that while planning their attacks, terrorists often live in our communities, travel on our highways, and shop in our stores. Even more critical is that it is our collective responsibility—state, local, and tribal law enforcement—to ensure that prevention of terrorist attacks is the paramount priority in any national, state, tribal, or local homeland security strategy.
As much as this has been discussed over the last 10 years, many departments still are not involved in this collective homeland security effort. The reasons are ones we all know: An agency is too small; homeland security is the responsibility of the federal government; and, the one I hear the most, departments are simply trying to focus on day-to-day crime and do not have the resources to get involved in protection of the homeland.
But my strong opinion is that if state, tribal, and local law enforcement officers are adequately equipped and trained, they can be invaluable assets in efforts to identify and apprehend suspected terrorists before they strike. There are several initiatives that are geared toward state, local, and tribal law enforcement that are no cost or low cost but whose benefits cannot be paralleled.
Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative
First, the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative (NSI) is a reporting system whose strategy is to develop, evaluate, and implement common processes and policies for gathering, documenting, processing, analyzing, and sharing information about terrorism-related suspicious activities. In 2011 alone, nearly 100,000 frontline officers were trained on this critical initiative. But I know we can accomplish more. The NSI line officer training is a 15-minute CD that provides officers with preincident terrorism activities and advises how to report suspicious activity, while at the same time protecting the privacy, the civil rights, and the civil liberties of individuals. As chiefs, we can easily incorporate this training into a roll call or shift briefing or as part of regularly scheduled monthly or quarterly trainings; post the training to an online distance-learning platform; or have officers log on to one of several online platforms to experience the training. I encourage you to visit the NSI training website at http://nsi.ncirc.gov (accessed January 26, 2012) to learn more about using this line officer training.
If You See Something, Say Something
An initiative that goes hand in hand with the NSI training is the If You See Something, Say Something campaign, a simple and effective program to engage the public to identify and report indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime to law enforcement authorities. We, the IACP membership, passed a resolution at our recent annual conference in Chicago supporting this initiative as it is “consistent with the IACP’s belief that ‘Hometown Security is Homeland Security,’ ” according to the resolution’s text.
The initiative is based on the fact that U.S. security is a shared responsibility, and every U.S. citizen plays a critical role in identifying and reporting suspicious activities and threats. The program teaches the public to report only suspicious behavior and situations rather than beliefs, thoughts, ideas, expressions, associations, or speech unrelated to terrorism or other criminal activity. I believe both programs will complement each other and further assist state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies in their efforts to protect their communities from harm. More information can be found at http://www.dhs.gov/ifyouseesomethingsaysomething (accessed January 26, 2012).
Finally, the IACP continues to work on initiatives that will help our members become involved in the national (not the federal) homeland security effort. One project that I would like to bring to your attention, with the assistance of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, is a training program we call SLT 101, a primer for police executives on information sharing including fusion centers and suspicious activity reporting, among others. The IACP will be conducting 10 national training sessions geared toward midsize and smaller agencies this year. I encourage you to register at http://www.theiacp.org/SLT101 (accessed January 26, 2012).
I strongly believe that the observation of an alert officer, deputy, or trooper could very likely prevent the next act of terrorism, and so I urge you to become involved and get your line officers involved. Regardless of the size of an agency or other prohibitive factors, the time is now for all of us to take ownership of our homeland security strategy. The reality is that local authorities—not federal—have the primary responsibility for preventing, responding to, and recovering from terrorist attacks. Our communities look to us for protection; we must do all we can to provide it. ■
Please cite as:
Walter A. McNeil, "Homeland Security Is Hometown Security," President’s Message, The Police Chief 79 (February 2012): 6.