By Sgt. Betsy Branter Smith
In the early morning hours of Thursday, August 10, 2006, I got a call from a police colleague, asking me, in a voice filled with tension, “Are you watching the news?” I wasn’t. In fact, having just completed two days of teaching the Street Survival Seminar, in another time zone and getting ready to fly home in a few hours to spend the weekend as the acting watch commander on day shift, I was sleeping in.
Now wide awake, I turned on the news and learned the first details of the aviation terror plot uncovered by British law enforcement authorities. As I watched in silence, my fellow sergeant, still on the phone said, “What are we going to tell our officers?”
The intended target of these planned midair explosions were flights headed for the United States. American citizens are quick to call for action and even quicker to become complacent, and cops are sometimes no different. For the past 30 plus years, law enforcement trainers have been actively battling complacency in our personnel. It’s a battle we’re wining—just look at the reduction in officers killed in the line of duty over the past three decades—but it’s one that must be constantly attended to.
I’m going to suggest that every sergeant in charge of every patrol shift in this country walk into their next roll call and write VIGILANCE in large bold letters on the chalkboard, dry erase board, computer screen or whatever briefing information is posted. We need to remind our officers that we are the first line of defense against terrorism, foreign and domestic, in this country. We are the sheepdogs, the warriors, the protectors of those who have the luxury of choosing complacency when we do not.
And it’s not enough to simply remind our personnel that our communities and our country are still vulnerable to terrorist attacks, we have a responsibility to put the fire in their bellies; to remind them why they need to stay informed and stay alert. Show them the videos of September 11, 2001. Remind them what happened in Madrid and in London. Talk about heroes like Oklahoma Trooper Charlie Hanger, who caught Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh or rookie cop Jerry Postel from Murphy, North Carolina who captured Olympic City bomber and cop-killer Eric Rudolph or Charlotte, North Carolina Officer Danny Maglione, who apprehended Kamran Akhtar, who was asked to leave the US voluntarily after he was caught surveilling and photographing various government and transportation buildings in Texas, Georgia and New York.
These are just a few of the examples of the local cops on routine patrol who are responsible for major terrorism arrests. Our officers need to be reminded that they really can and do make a difference.
As we teach in the Street Survival Seminar, a terrorist is just one of the many dirt bags on our list of criminals to hunt, but at least for now, they are at the top. Keep hunting, remain vigilant and above all, Stay Safe.