2004-03-26 / Community

The Citizen’s Police Academy Report


BRIAN MAGOOLAGHANBRIAN MAGOOLAGHAN

New York City will be hit by terrorism again – when, where and how are the unknowns. And the reason why it has not already happened could be that, from the terrorists’ perspective, it’s unnecessary. We are still living with the fear that was inspired by September 11.

Detective Michael Savallo of the NYPD’s Counter Terrorism Bureau shared this grim re ality with the Citizen’s Police Academy class this week.

Lets face it. Savallo and his partner, Detective Eric Vandenburg, both 18-year veterans of the force, were not about to reveal to the class the far-reaching counter terrorism measures that the NYPD is taking. But they were frank when they told us about the danger that exists.

These guys spoke to us for three hours and never once said anything reassuring. What Savallo did say is that public education is an important part of counter terrorism work.

"If we don’t start educating people85 we’re going to have a problem," Savallo said, adding that the public needs to be more aware.

What he means is that people like you and I are not used to analyzing what ap pears ordinary, recognizing things that are somewhat strange and thinking "this could be a sign of terrorism."

If you or I saw an unoccupied van parked in front of Beach Channel High School on a Friday afternoon we are much more likely to think that the driver is an inconsiderate parent who had to run inside for a moment, or a contractor who is doing some work inside. We are not programmed to think that the van might contain an explosive device timed to go off as school is letting out.

When we see a backpack left alone in public we think somebody lost their backpack, and then we consider what would be most helpful to the person who lost their stuff – leaving it so they can return and find it, looking through it for some identification. In Israel they think it’s a bomb.

Savallo said that neighborhood busybodies, those people who seem to know what everyone in the building or on the block is up to, could be useful be cause they spot behavior that is just slightly out of the ordinary.

The other side of that coin is that the police have to consider an increased number of suspicious activity reports these days, many of them coming in via the 1-888-NYC-SAFE hotline, and they have had to develop a terrorism game plan.

"Historically, recognizing indications of terrorist activity has not been a concern in domestic law enforcement or in training for it," reads a passage in the Police Student’s Guide chapter on Domestic Preparedness. "This re quir es a change in traditional police thinking and methods of analysis," the reading continues.

The Counter Terrorism Bureau, led by Deputy Commissioner Mic hael Shee han, came into existence in Feb ruary of 2002, and it was created "from scratch" al though terrorist acts have been committed in the city for the last three decades, Savallo said.

This week’s reading included a "Terrorism Timeline," which lists 16 separate acts of terrorism committed in the city since 1971. The history includes shootings and bombings committed by both domestic and international terrorist groups.

We spent good amount of time discussing fraudulent documents such as driver licenses and passports, for the obvious reasons. The first item listed in the "Possible Terrorist Activity In dicators" section of our reading is: Multiple sets of I.D. or forged or copied documents with different physical appearances or identities.

This was another area where we could not get into great detail, but we were given a few interesting tidbits to entertain our friends at our next dinner parties. For example, the first three digits of your Social Security number will be between 050 and 134 if it was issued in New York State. Here’s another: the first two digits printed on the bottom right of a New York State Driver License represent the driver’s birth year. Check it out.

If class was any indicator, you’re going to be a sensation at that future dinner party when you reveal this bit of fascinating information (although maybe not if you are among anyone who has worked as a bouncer in a club). Also, wait a few weeks so nobody calls you on the spot and accuses you of having learned what you know by reading this column.

One more thing about identification – all of the participants received rather unofficial looking "Citizen’s Police Academy" identification cards at the start of the third class. They have our name, the precinct we are sponsored by, two small NYPD emblems and a June expiration date on them. They don’t entitle us to any special privileges as far as I know, and I doubt that they will even get us past the door at the academy. I guess it’s the thought that counts.

Next week we’ll learn about emotionally disturbed persons, or EDPs in cop-speak, and see how the police are trained to handle certain situations with "the use of less than lethal tactics."

Some of us will be able to act in an EDP role-play. I think I know who will volunteer, and I’m betting next week’s installment of this report will virtually write itself!


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