Lessons in Counter Terrorism through LEEP

photo of jinsa logoIn a seemingly ever shrinking world, which is growing more and more connected through the Internet, information sharing has become important to everyone, and to every profession. The law enforcement profession is no exception. As our world grows more interconnected, and as criminal and terrorist threats become more global in scope, the need to learn from others' experiences in order to enhance and improve upon our own practices also increases. The staff at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) are incredibly aware of this, and through their Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP) they aim to connect law enforcement professionals in the United States with their counterparts in Israel, in order to learn how to better protect the U.S. communities from terrorist attacks.

photo of israel police/law enforcementEstablished after September 11, 2001, JINSA's LEEP program takes local, state, and federal law enforcement executives to Israel to learn about the counter terrorism strategies and techniques perfected by Israeli law enforcement. The program is based on the premise that if properly trained, U.S. law enforcement can better prevent and respond to terrorist threats and attacks. And, because of their history and experiences with terrorism, Israeli counter intelligence officers are considered the leading experts on preventing and responding to terrorist threats. According to JINSA Director of Communications James Cetrone, the program enjoys strong support from the Israeli Police Department, all the way up to the Commissioner, who has been known to remark that Israelis don't want Americans to pay with blood like the Israelis have. Mr. Cetrone said that at all levels of the Israeli police department staff and officers are incredibly gracious and willing to share their counter and anti-terrorism expertise with the visiting Americans.

While in Israel, law enforcement professionals learn about the many facets of handling terrorism. They learn how to effectively gather, share, and disseminate intelligence information and proactive methods to apprehend terrorists and disrupt plots before they happen. LEEP participants also learn about conducting thorough and successful forensic investigations after an incident, and the importance of understanding the motivation and ideology of the terrorist organizations in order to detect possible activities. But the lessons learned go beyond tactics and policies. Mr. Cetrone said that one of the biggest surprises for the visiting police chiefs and sheriffs, when in Israel, was the calm and relative harmony of daily life—despite the nearly constant, and historically prevalent, threat of terrorism. Sheriff Larry Amerson of Calhoun County, Alabama, and immediate past president of the National Sheriff's Association, was a participant on the 2012 JINSA LEEP trip to Israel. Sheriff Amerson said that the trip had a lot more impact than he expected, and that when he saw life in Israel with his own eyes he got not only a greater understanding of the situation in Israel as it relates to terrorist threats, but he also saw how people continued to lead full lives in vibrant communities despite those threats.

photo of israel police/law enforcementThe COPS Office's Acting Director, Joshua Ederheimer, joined the JINSA trip in March 2013, and said that he wanted to attend the exchange program with local chiefs and sheriffs to be prepared in the outside chance that something like a terrorist incident—such as the Boston Marathon bombing, which happened just weeks after his return—would happen on his watch. He remarked that the Israeli police have dealt with consistent and focused terrorist attacks on the public for years, and their strategies and tactics are extremely refined and well thought out due to this continued exposure. He was also surprised by the willingness of the Israeli police and citizens to continue to innovate in such a hyper vigilant environment, and by the resiliency of the people to continue on with their lives there.

One of the key components to the Israeli's success to prevent and respond to terrorist threats and attacks is their relationship with their community. At a very young age Israelis are taught that if they see something suspicious, to say something. This awareness of their surroundings and environment is ingrained in every community member, regardless of age. And the Israeli police listen closely to their citizens, working to share information not only throughout the police and intelligence agencies in Israel, but also with their communities to prevent and respond to attacks. It became very clear to Acting Director Ederheimer, while in Israel, that “counterterrorism work is community policing work.” He witnessed first-hand the ability of the Israeli police to gather information about possible terrorist activities, and gather forensic evidence and intelligence after attacks, and its direct correlation to their strong and trusting relationship with the citizenry.

photo of police trained by Israeli groupsBut the learning and work doesn't end for LEEP participants once they return home from the exchange program. JINSA's Cetrone said he is always surprised, after a program trip, how quickly participants get to work to integrate all they've learned from the Israelis into their own agency's practices and methods. Sheriff Amerson said that he was struck with how the Israelis treat terrorism as just another crime. While the resulting damage and loss from acts of terrorism are far more terrible than most crimes, terrorism is just another form of crime, and one to which local law enforcement is already equipped with the tools to respond and investigate. And while many large and urban agencies have anti-terrorism task forces and units, mid-sized and small agencies can still use the information gained from Israel to enhance their operations and ability to respond to terrorism. Sheriff Amerson's Calhoun County Office is currently in the process of making changes and enhancements based on a combination of the Israeli model and what he learned on his trip in 2012—enhancements that will increase their capabilities to identify, prevent, and respond to terrorist activities in their county. He stressed the importance of having a proactive component, like the Israelis, where investigators are analyzing what is going on in the community: “Way too often, we are reactive, not proactive.”

While JINSA can only send a small group of law enforcement professionals to attend the exchange in Israel each year, there are other ways for law enforcement to learn about methods and practices both from the Israeli's counterterrorism experts as well as from their colleagues throughout the United States. In addition to the organized trips, JINSA also holds conferences in the United States and brings Israeli officers to talk to American law enforcement across the nation. While funding restraints have prevented JINSA from hosting such conferences since 2009, they are looking to host one or more in 2013 or 2014. There are also other law enforcement exchange programs and regional and national conferences that provide opportunities for local, state, and federal law enforcement to share information, share promising practices, and bring back new ideas to enhance their operations at their own agencies. In this ever shrinking but interconnected world—and with crime no longer merely a local issue, but a global one—seeking ways to share information benefits the profession of law enforcement as a whole.

Kimberly Brummett
The COPS Office

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