The Edmond Sun

April 17, 2013

Officials: If you see something, say something

Boston incident triggers hyper-vigilant citizenry

Mark Schlachtenhaufen
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Wednesday morning, a citizen reported an abandoned moving truck parked across the street from City Hall in downtown Oklahoma City, said Police Capt. Dexter Nelson. Mounting concerns led to street closures, the evacuation of City Hall and the deployment of a bomb squad robot that examined the truck. Exterior and interior searches determined nothing dangerous was inside, Nelson said. The incident has become a stolen vehicle investigation, he said.

At 2:50 p.m. Monday — Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts — two improvised explosive devices, one located near the Boston Marathon finish line, the other at Boylston and Fairfield streets, were detonated. The blasts killed three people, including an 8-year-old boy, and wounded more than 170, according to media reports.

It is not clear if the incident was an act of domestic or international terrorism, officials have said.

The “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign, originally used by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is a simple and effective way to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and terrorism-related crime, said Edmond Police Chief Bob Ricks.

To protect privacy, civil rights and civil liberties, the campaign emphasizes reports that document behavior reasonably indicative of criminal activity related to terrorism.

Ricks, an FBI assistant special agent in charge during the 1993 Waco siege and an FBI special agent in charge during the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, said local residents know the difference between normal and suspicious activity in their neighborhoods.

Ricks said types of suspicious activity include surveillance of a specific target to determine strengths, weaknesses and number of personnel that may respond. Actions might include someone recording or monitoring activities, taking photographs or drawing diagrams or annotating on maps.

Another is testing security, usually conducted by driving by the target, moving into sensitive areas and observing security or law enforcement response.

It may be a case where someone is purchasing, storing or stealing explosives, weapons or ammunition. It could also be someone storing harmful chemical equipment in public storage. Other pre-incident indicators of terrorism include the presence of suspicious people who just “don’t belong,” dry runs and deploying assets and/or getting into place.  

David Cid, of Edmond, is executive director of Oklahoma City’s Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. It is a nonprofit training and professional development center serving the line officer.

Cid, who headed a consulting practice providing security, crisis management and business continuity services before joining the institute in 2006, said the Boston bombing shows that despite the many efforts to thwart terrorism that incidents can still happen.

Cid said the nation’s first line of defense involves police officers and citizens. More than 80 percent of foiled terrorist plots were discovered via observations from law enforcement and the general public, according to an Institute for Homeland Security Solutions study examining successes and failures in detecting terrorist plots from 1999-2009.

Tips included reports of plots as well as reports of suspicious activity, such as pre-operational surveillance, para-military training, smuggling activities and the discovery of suspicious documents.

Both Ricks and Cid urged civilians to not hesitate to report suspicious behavior. There’s no penalty for under reporting, they said. About 40 percent of the plots were thwarted as a result of tips from the public and informants.

When reporting suspicious activity, citizens are urged to contact their local law enforcement agency. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security information should include a brief description of the activity, date, time and location, physical identifiers of anyone observed, descriptions of relevant vehicles and information about where people involved in suspicious activities may have gone. | 341-2121, ext. 108