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Forum:
Unused secret weapon against terrorism
         By Martin A. Greenberg and Ken Cooper

Acts of domestic terrorism are again in the news, and the United States may be forced to take more measures  and more serious ones  than its citizens are used to in order to reduce its vulnerability.

The new wave of incidents began, roughly speaking, with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, which killed six and injured more than 1,000. This was followed by the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, with the loss of 168 lives, and in July of this year, by the destruction of TWA Flight 800, which claimed another 230 lives. (Admittedly, sabotage has yet to be pinpointed as the cause of the TWA crash, but at the same time it has not been ruled out, and few observers seem to think it was anything but.)

In the wake of these tragedies, President Clinton said, “We need to get the very best ideas we can to try to strengthen this country’s hand against terrorism.”

Experts in the field have commented that the problem of countering terrorism is complicated by the nature of America’s open society, its large and diverse population, and the simmering hostility and anger felt by some groups in our society. On the other hand, it is possible that tips from a vigilant public can help authorities by alerting them to potential threats. Authorities have solicited information from the general public by using toll-free telephone hot line numbers and Internet addresses in their efforts to gather useful information. However, Federal and local authorities appear to be very reluctant to mobilize the community in such a way that the United States could be said to possess a new security force designed to stop terrorists before they strike.

Jeff Beatty, a terrorism expert who worked on security planning for the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984 and Barcelona in 1992, has observed:

“In the counterterrorism business, if you’re investigating, you’ve already lost the battle. The key is stopping an attack beforehand.... Terrorists build practice bombs and conduct casing and rehearsal activity that may be suspicious. Citizens need to chip in with additional eyes and ears to report suspicious activity.... To win the war, we need an organization and tools designed from the ground up to beat terrorism worldwide.”

A similar view was offered by Robbie Friedmann, another Olympic security consultant, who stated: “The community should be called on to help law enforcement do their job.... It’s common sense. There are more of them than security personnel....”

How best to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public is a complex problem involving a myriad of private and public interests and initiatives. In the United States, as we near the end of the 20th century, more than 17,000 local, state and Federal law enforcement agencies have been established for these purposes. However, such responsibilities have not always been in the exclusive hands of government.

In England, since at least the late 13th century, large towns were officially policed by a constable and a security force consisting of unpaid citizens. Since 1662, the local citizens who perform in this capacity have been designated as “special constables.” Today, about 15,000 specials perform routine patrol duties alongside regular constables.

In the United States, the terms “reserves” or “auxiliaries” refer to citizen volunteer police officers. They were first organized into significant units at the time of World War I, although unpaid “posse” members had been recruited in frontier towns during the 19th century. Currently, there are more than 4,000 auxiliary police officers in New York City alone, and at least 100,000 more nationwide. Ohio can lay claim to the most volunteer officers, with 18,000, and California ranks second with 13,000. Reserve deputies attached to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department made a vital contribution to the security of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Eight state police or highway patrol agencies use reserve troopers.

The traditional roles of police include law enforcement, crime prevention, order maintenance, delivery of service, and the protection of civil liberties and rights. Terrorism involves the commission of a violent act for the purpose of making some kind of political statement. The most important role that volunteer police could provide would be to help prevent terrorism. Various experts have asserted that the U.S. Justice Department has neither the power nor the resources to effectively prevent terrorism. Moreover, even with stricter controls, surveillance and other security measures in confined spaces such as buildings and airports, terrorism may be impossible to stop. Philip Stern, a New York-based terrorism expert, has been quoted as saying: “Even Israel, a democracy that is under siege 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, can’t stop it  and they have in place a security system that we could not possibly emulate, due to this country’s size.” Nevertheless, Israel has survived because it has mobilized its citizens into a variety of professional and volunteer protective services.

In the United States, the police and the citizens they serve must realize that their combined efforts are needed to combat terrorism. The resulting synergism can accomplish much more than their isolated individual efforts. Citizens need to be included in governmental planning to combat terrorism. Surely their additional eyes and ears could help to report suspicious behavior. Remember again Beatty’s observation that in the realm of terrorism, if you are reacting to an emergency, such as a bombing, you have already lost the battle, and maybe the war.

A number of new strategies have been introduced in recent years in order to strengthen local crime prevention efforts, including improved street lighting, property identification, home and business security surveys, and special crime or neighborhood watch programs that may or may not have a citizen patrol component. However, the idea of calling upon the community for assistance is often seen as a last resort, and when the call has gone out it is typically limited to asking citizens to respond to a toll-free hot line or E-mail address. Not surprisingly, the police often receive numerous calls that have little validity or value. Furthermore, while reserves and auxiliary units have been recruited by many police agencies, they are sometimes viewed as competitors because patrol officers feel that their jobs are threatened by unpaid volunteers.

Despite aforementioned drawbacks, there are several ways in which auxiliary police or reserves could be utilized in a day-to-day way for the purposes of promoting counterterrorism. For starters, the Federal Government could officially recognize the potential contributions of volunteer police by establishing a special training division at one or more of its training centers. Such centers would teach appropriate reporting techniques, crime prevention and surveillance skills. Further, state governments could establish and train auxiliary police units for the specific purpose of screening employees in sabotage-prone industries, such as the airlines. Auxiliaries with appropriate training also could be assigned to teach crime prevention skills to the general public at Citizen Police Academies.

The regular use of auxiliary police personnel would appear to be a natural type of counterterrorism strategy. If governments were to recognize their potential the forces marshaled against terrorism could be doubled or even tripled in a short span of time. Synergism occurs when people and governmental organizations channel their energies toward a common purpose and accomplish what they could not have achieved alone. Citizens who are auxiliary police officers or who have been trained by them are a tremendous untapped reservoir in the prevention of terrorism, awaiting only an official with the insight and will to open the faucet.

(Martin A. Greenberg is director of training for Tactical Handgun Training Inc. in Kingston, N.Y. Ken Cooper is THT’s executive director. They can be reached at (914) 339-3440 for further information.)

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Published in Law Enforcement News
Nov. 15, 1996.
© 1996, LEN Inc.