WORCESTER, Mass. — Israel and Worcester are worlds apart, but Police Chief Steven M. Sargent said there is a lot the city can learn from how terrorist threats are being addressed in the Middle East.
On Tuesday, Chief Sargent returned from Israel after attending a weeklong counterterrorism seminar sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League of New England. The seminar brought together members of law enforcement of every level from throughout New England to learn from senior Israeli intelligence, police and military officials about the latest methods of preventing terrorism.
The Anti-Defamation League pays for training of law enforcement officials as part of its overall mission of reducing anti-Semitism and securing justice and fair treatment for all. It has been sending law enforcement officials to counterterrorism seminars in Israel since 2004.
The trip coincided with President Donald Trump’s announcing recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as well as a terrorist attack in New York City that left the terrorist and three others injured. As the news of the New York bombing was unfolding, the group in Israel received briefings from Israeli officials. They were in the area where protests erupted over the president’s announcement, but they did not encounter any problems.
“We were in the same area but didn’t get involved with any of that,” Chief Sargent said. He would not comment on the politics of the situation, but said the way Israeli police handle situations like that, they were not worried about their safety.
“They take care of their business,” he said, adding that their group was kept moving from one educational program to another.
Although the challenges Israel faces in protecting its citizens in one of the most volatile areas of the world are extreme, Chief Sargent said, what he learned there will allow the Worcester Police Department to improve policies and procedures it already has in place to deal with unexpected crime situations and emergencies.
A part of the seminar that he said is relevant to Worcester was discussion about soft targets and lone-wolf terrorists.
“When you think about it, we have a lot of soft targets,” he said. “We have a railroad station, we have the airport, we have a lot of different places.”
Less heavily policed than other locations, places like malls and busy intersections have become targets of terrorists. Lone-wolf terrorists, those working on their own without the support of larger organizations, are also a growing problem, not just in the United States, but also a main focus even in the Middle East, the chief said.
The group discussed dealing with those threats through better intelligence and planning for public events, he said. Among the sites they visited to observe security efforts was the Wailing Wall, a holy site that is all that remains of the second temple of Jerusalem. It attracts many people each day to pray and view the wall. They also visited prison and training facilities.
Chief Sargent said the Israelis said they work at getting involved with all religious and other communities within the country in the hope of better understanding. He said a major benefit of the seminar was meeting with other police chiefs and federal officials who attended the seminar. He said there were representatives on the trip from the Secret Service, New England Homeland Security, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and a state police lieutenant colonel and police chiefs from Somerville, Watertown, Haverhill, Foxboro, and Wakefield, chiefs from Boston University and Tufts University, and the sheriff of Plymouth County. The Watertown chief and the head of New England Homeland Security both worked on the Boston Marathon bombing case.
What they all heard and related to was an emphasis on understanding what threats are possible and being prepared for any emergency.
“Being prepared is what we’ve always had to do in law enforcement,” Chief Sargent said.
Information from: Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Mass.), http://www.telegram.com