WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Two top police officials from the nation’s capital have returned from a homeland security-inspired trip to Israel, where they say they got a first-hand look at how police and the public respond to security threats and disasters.
Diane Groomes, an assistant D.C. police chief, and Deputy Chief Robert MacLean of the U.S. Park Police were among law enforcement officials from around the country who made the trip last month. The week-long visit, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, was intended to give American police leaders a window into how Israeli police prevent and respond to terrorist attacks.
Police Chief Cathy Lanier did not make the trip.
The exercise is more than just hypothetical in Washington, the seat of American government and a city whose iconic landmarks have made it a possible target for acts of terrorism or other hate crimes, such as a 2009 fatal shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum by a white supremacist.
The officials said they were struck by certain similarities in law enforcement response between the United States and Israel and in the familiar but delicate balance between preserving civil liberties and maintaining strict security. MacLean said some of the screening measures were similar from country to country, though some tactics in Israel might not be as well-accepted here.
Groomes in particular said she was struck by how quickly Israel, which has a national police force, can respond to a disaster and said the public there seems more accepting of the prevalent security precautions that are in place.
“I think our police officers are prepared. I don’t know about our public. I think panic will set in, just like when the earthquake” happened, Groomes said, referring to the August quake that rattled much of the East Coast.
She also said she was impressed by the speed with which the Israeli police and public seem to recover from tragedy.
“I was just struck by how they can handle a scene, process and clear it and plant within it” in hours, Groomes said, adding, “If we had a bomb on a bus, it would take us maybe a day or to handle. They said they just want life to go back to normal as soon as possible.”
MacLean, who has previously worked with the ADL, said he was particularly moved by a visit to the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, and by the personal anecdotes he heard from Israelis, including from a person who described a decision to send his children to school on different school buses to minimize family losses in the event of a terrorist attack. He also heard from a survivor of a suicide bombing attack.
“For her to sit there in front of us and tell her story and how she would not let that affect her life and career was just very moving and emotional, for her and everybody in the room,” MacLean said
Elise Jarvis, the ADL’s associate director for law enforcement outreach, said the ADL has been sponsoring similar trips for several years to facilitate information sharing between police officials in both nations. She said it’s inspiring for the U.S. police officers to see the “resilience of Israeli law enforcement, Israeli people, and how they’ve endured what they’ve endured and they haven’t lost their humanity.”
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