On March 21, 2007 Ms. Lindsey Young was in the backyard of her Riverside, California home overlooking a large open area of uninhabited land when she noticed a van parked below her home at the end of a desolate dirt road. A white male adult was walking outside the van, seemingly innocent yet something attracted her attention to his man and his van. She took more notice when the man opened the back door and looked inside as if he was talking to someone. For whatever reason, Ms. Young found this odd and called the police. A patrol Deputy arrived on scene however the man and the van had already left.
Shortly after the Deputy left, the van came back and again Ms. Young took notice. While she could not exactly describe what was suspicious about him or the situation, in her opinion, it was and she again called 911. This time the man and his van were still there when the Deputy arrived. As Ms. Young described it, "I saw the Deputy motion to the man to open the back door of the van and as soon as he did, the Deputy jumped back, drew his weapon and pointed it at the man and then handcuffed him." Inside the van the Deputy found a middle aged woman, bound and gagged laying inside a specially built box designed to keep an adult sized human captive. This past week, more than two years since the day he was captured, the kidnapper was finally put on trial and convicted of multiple felony charges including kidnapping and will soon be sentenced with the DA's office asking for life without the possibility of parole. So what does the above story have to do with this article? Everything.
On October 3, 2009, at the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference in Denver, Colorado, Chief of Police, William Bratton, head of the Los Angeles Police Department, unveiled the department's new iWATCH anti-terrorism public awareness campaign. The program was developed to educate the citizens of Los Angeles regarding what is considered suspicious behavior as it relates to possible terrorist acts in the planning and/or pre-implementation stages while asking them to call and report the same.
While the idea of a public education campaign is not new, one thing that sets iWATCH apart is its tie in to the LAPD's recently implemented internal Suspicious Activity Reporting System, aka, SARS program. In its simplest form, SARS was designed to help bridge the gap between standard crime reporting to now being able to track and potentially correlate what in the past may have appeared be regular, everyday crimes to possible acts of terrorist planning in the works.
Take for example a report of trespassing on private property; in this case the property could be an oil and gas refinery. In the past, a patrol unit would arrive on scene, search the area for the trespasser and if no subject was found, the unit may simply report it as "Suspect GOA" (Gone on Arrival) and go on to the next call. However since the implementation and training of officers on the SARS program, the officers may now also tag this as a SARS report because the trespassing occurred at a major oil refinery - a possible terrorist target. A copy of the report would now be forwarded to the appropriate unit within the agency whose mission is anti and counter terrorism activities to review and take appropriate action as needed.
Following the flow of this report, if an area law enforcement agency later receives information from a credible source suggesting a possible terrorist attack may be in the works at a large chemical or gas producing facility in or about their area, the local agency, now using SARS can go back and look for any trends that may help substantiate the report. Reports could include suspicious activities taking place on or about these facilities reported by not only their own officers via SARS but also members of the community via the new iWATCH program. Perhaps in addition to the trespassing report, which could have been a dry run to see how long it takes police to respond, an area neighbor also reported a suspicious van parked near by occupied by two men who come and go all day but never get out of the van - possibly surveying the site to determine the best covert entry point bomb placement. Using this information from multiple sources, local law enforcement agencies can now take appropriate actions to help protect this potential target with more certainly than in the past.