By George Anderson
There’s never been a more important time for Americans to unite and pledge that when they “see something,” they “say something.” New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) originally unveiled the “See Something, Say Something” campaign to increase public awareness about signs of terrorism and the importance of reporting suspicious activity to law enforcement authorities. This slogan, later licensed to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) highlights the concept that homeland security begins with hometown security. As a retired NYPD Assistant Chief with 30 years of experience as a police officer, supervisor, trainer, and critical incident responder, I believe that every American needs to develop the tools and techniques to honor the “See Something, Say Something” mandate.
Police and security forces are hard at work, but public safety is the responsibility of all Americans. We are the first line of defense against acts of terrorism on our country and each individual’s help is needed. All Americans need to be on alert for potential risks. The attempted car bombing in Times Square in 2010 was averted by the vigilance of a quick-thinking street vendor who witnessed smoke coming from an SUV and alerted police. This potentially saved hundreds of lives had the device functioned as it was nefariously intended. While this incident was front page news, virtually every day thousands of citizens across the country witness suspicious activity. Citizens play important roles in helping law enforcement solve crimes and save lives by becoming actively involved in protecting their communities. Whether you live in a rural or urban environment, our best defense is to let the authorities know when something does not look right and to be prepared for the unexpected.
As the Vice President of Operations at America’s largest security services company and a former police officer, I offer the following tips to help people to know how to recognize and report suspicious activities:
Take Note of Suspicious Behavior – Suspicious activity can be defined as an incident, circumstance or person who appears out of the ordinary and out of place. A range of suspicious behavior includes the adult man loitering alone in the children’s playground, or someone wandering down the street peering closely into car windows. A person taking lots of photographs of a building’s infrastructure is potentially suspicious as this person may be taking images to look for weaknesses in the building to exploit for criminal or terrorist activities. Someone tampering with sewer, gas or an electric system that is not branded with an identifiable company or government agency is suspicious. Hearing unusual sounds – glass breaking, people shouting, gun shots – all are clearly suspicious. Seeing a bag left by a passenger on a bus or train or in a public place is suspicious and demands immediate action by alerting the bus or train operator and calling 911.
Record Suspicious Activity – Write down as much information about the suspicious behavior as possible noting the time and place with a physical description of the suspicious person. If you are able to discreetly take a photo or video of the person from your phone, this could become important evidence. Minus photographic evidence, try to provide specific information to the authorities including gender, race, approximate age, height and weight, hair color and style, clothing, and general appearance including note of any facial hair, scars, tattoos or glasses.
Educate the Workplace – Even workplaces with a full-time security team need to involve their employees and promote the See Something, Say Something campaign. The security team cannot be in every hallway, office and production area at all times – but your employees are.
It is the observations of the many that can truly make an impact. All employees should be educated on what constitutes suspicious activity and the importance of reporting it. In some offices, it is the receptionist who is the company’s first line of defense. A receptionist should be suspicious of an unknown individual who claims to have lost their identification and seeks to gain entry, or a caller who asks probing questions about particular employees’ schedules or whereabouts.
Establish Reporting Procedures in the Workplace – Determining the chain of command on reporting procedures for suspicious activity is important. When is it appropriate for employees to call the police? If an employee feels immediate attention is necessary, they should call 911. Does the level of activity warrant an initial investigation from your security firm or company manager? The Homeland Security Department has also established a tip line to report suspicious activity, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-866-HLS-TIPS. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to be observant and vigilant on the job and even on their way to work. If there is a stray tote bag tucked under the bus or subway seat, report it to the local police. If a stranger walks into the office without having been identified by your front desk security personnel, ensure that is reported immediately to the appropriate person. Vehicles abandoned in the right of way should also be reported to local authorities immediately. These situations can be completely innocent, but they could also be very dangerous and are worth a call to the local police.
George Anderson is Vice President, Operations for the New York office of AlliedBarton Security Services and President of the New York Chapter of ASIS. Prior to joining AlliedBarton, Anderson had a thirty year career with the NYPD, retiring as an Assistant Chief.