Is your department prepared for the next terrorist attack?
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Police officers regularly participate in training, attend seminars and workshops, and learn through experiences throughout all stages of their careers. From dealing with agitated people suffering from mental illness to drunk driving crash-scene investigations, officers regularly experience situations that can have deadly consequences. Continuing education programs are created around these situations to prepare — and maintain — the skills necessary to prevent worst-case scenarios.
Terrorism is unlike any other risky situation officers can experience, though. Instead of dealing with a situation officers encounter on a regular basis, most officers have never experienced a terrorist-attack response — and most never will. But the risk of more terrorist attacks in the U.S. has prompted the need for preparation and training.
"Unfortunately most of the best trained agencies are those that have been through an attack," said Clint McNear, the North Texas representative for TMPA and retired police detective. "After going through one, the leadership realizes they need to do every possible thing they can, within reason, to ensure it never happens again."
Here are five things you should consider when preparing officers for counterterrorism:
1. Update communication procedures
Individual police departments should create a manual of procedures for communicating any terrorist-related situation internally. From communicating a tip about suspicious activity to alerting the department of an attack, procedures reduce confusion and increase response time.
Departments should also collaborate with other area departments to create procedures for large-scale communication.
"The biggest thing to change in the last 15 years is the communication between various law enforcement entities," McNear said.
2. Keep your mind and body strong through constant training
Keeping your officers constantly training and improving their skills will keep them from losing focus. Officers who don't maintain their training will be unprepared when situations arise. Everything from a workout in the gym to a large-scale mock event day will keep an officer prepared.
A mock event is "a great opportunity to make mistakes to be learned from, and ensure they don't happen during the real thing," according to McNear.
3. Be cautious in situations with refugees
Refugees create difficult situations for LEOs because policies may allow terrorist-associated individuals into the country — but not all refugees are associated with terrorists. LEOs must protect the community from potential terrorists without profiling and impeding on another person's rights. It's a fine line that officers must walk.
"I do not believe the current policy for the entrance of refugees into our country is stringent enough to protect our country from being infiltrated and attacked," McNear said.
4. Watch for nontraditional terrorist attacks
According to a report from Hoover Institution, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "one of the greatest dangers we continue to face is the toxic mix of rogue nations, terrorist groups, and nuclear, chemical or biological weapons."
Nontraditional attacks include chemical and biological warfare, cyberterrorism, narcoterrorism, ecoterrorism and more. Police departments responding to these attacks will face an entirely new situation, but the response should be standard: prepare with procedures, communication and simulated events.
Warning signs of nontraditional attacks are different, though. Things that seem harmless might be a warning sign. Officers need to learn to pay attention to details, and anything suspicious should be reported and discussed with the department.
5. Officers should always be prepared
Always be aware. Even interventions by off-duty officers could stop an attack. They are not only trained, but the attacker is unaware of the off-duty officers' abilities because they fit in the crowd.
One example of an off-duty officer taking down a terrorist attack successfully was the attempt on May 3 in Garland, Texas, during a free speech event that was displaying cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
"In spite of early shortfalls, the two radicalized extremists chose to engage someone who was mentally prepared for a gunfight," McNear said. That individual was an off-duty officer who was always prepared — not just physically, but also mentally.
Police departments preparing for counterterrorism need to supply officers with all available information and assist in building the necessary skill set. Government-funded programs and grants are available to police departments nationwide for training and equipment.
However, the skills and knowledge need continuous reinforcement. Keep the feeling of "always prepared" in your department at all times. Whether preparing for a physical confrontation or the mental trauma of a disaster zone, always keep focused — you never know when an attack could happen.
Is your department ready for a terrorist attack?
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