AUGUSTA, Maine — The way law enforcement agencies in Israel work together to deal with threats is a model the United States can learn from, the chief of the Maine State Police said after returning from a weeklong training trip to the Middle East nation.
“They have a very high level of cooperation between agencies,” Col. Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police, said Tuesday, the day after he returned from the anti-terrorism session in Israel. “Granted, there are only three — the military, the Israeli National Police and the intelligence agency — but if they have information that a suicide bomber is coming into the country, they let everybody know.”
Every police officer, airport or border security member, and even mall guards, are informed.
“They want everybody looking for it,” Williams said. “That [line of thinking] is kind of foreign to us.”
The state police colonel was one of 15 high-ranking law enforcement officials from all over the northeastern United States who traveled to Israel for the counterterrorism training and education, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, a national organization that fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry in the U.S. and abroad, the group’s website states.
The group had a grueling six-day schedule filled with 12- to 16-hour days designed to educate them about basically two things, Williams said.
“One was how do they secure their country and the other one was how they police their country, which is two different things,” he said.
In one 24-hour period, “you were able to attend mass beside the stone where Jesus was crucified, meet with a woman who survived a suicide bombing on a bus and someone who survived the Holocaust,” the state police chief said. “It helps bring everything into perspective.”
Each of the six days in Israel was just as hectic, Williams said.
ADL uses information sharing, education, legislation and advocacy to fight hate, bigotry and extremism, their website states. They invited Williams to attend the counterterrorism seminar and paid for everything except for a flight from Maine to New York City, he said.
“Israel, regrettably, has had to deal with terrorist threats since its founding in 1948,” Robert Trestan, an ADL member who led the group, said Monday.
The decades of unrest have provided law enforcement officials in the country with a vast amount of experience with identifying potential threats and neutralizing them, he said.
“They call it riots and we called it civil unrest,” said Williams, who, along with the group, stopped for lunch about 20 miles away from where an Israeli aircraft dropped bombs in Syria last week.
“It’s a country where literally all their neighbors hate them,” said Williams, describing Israel as about the size of Connecticut. “One missed word [could mean] Israel doesn’t exist tomorrow. It’s very complicated and that’s why they take security of their country and threats very seriously.”
The training session is an opportunity for U.S. law enforcement to learn about the latest strategies and techniques used in combating terror threats, while strengthening professional relationships, Williams said.
The group went to Jerusalem and saw the massive video surveillance system used by local police to keep the peace. They went to a border crossing used by 80,000 people a day, to airports, and to the country’s biggest shopping mall, where everyone who enters goes through a metal detector.
In the Jerusalem, “they have a system of 200 cameras,” Williams said, describing the surveillance system as high-tech. “In the old part of the city, they can follow you anywhere.”
He later added, “it was like Star Wars compared to what we do.”
At the border, “they use biometrics to check people,” the state police colonel said.
“After presenting your paperwork, officials can verify it with your fingerprint,” he said. “If you’re a suspect in something, they can pull you out.”
At the mall, “Everybody gets checked. They go through a metal detector and profiling is not a dirty word,” Williams said. “As odd as it is to us, it’s just a way of life for them.”
The sharing of information between the law enforcement professionals in the U.S. and Israel went both ways, he said.
“In some places they were ahead of us and in some places they were behind us,” said Williams, giving laptops as an example of one U.S. advantage. Pagers are what officers use in Israel to send and receive information, he said.
The sense of duty is another thing about the Israelis that really impressed him, Williams said. All are required to serve in the military and afterward many volunteer to work for the police department.
“There are 26,000 police officers and 118,000 volunteers,” he said. “People feel it’s a sense of their duty to help protect their country.”
The volunteers investigate accidents and crimes and those who earn certifications get a uniform and are armed, the state police chief said.
ADL, which turns 100 this year, started the National Counterterrorism Seminars in 2004 and has offered the northeastern program for four years running. It gives U.S. law enforcement a firsthand understanding of the psychological impact of terrorism on civil society and allows them to interact directly with their Israeli police peers, an ADL press release states.
“Some of the issues are different but the techniques [to deal with them] are the same,” Trestan said.
It is too early to say exactly what information he learned in Israel will be implemented in Maine, Williams said.
After spending a week in a foreign country on the other side of the globe learning all he could about counterterrorism, Williams said he came away with one underlying thought: “We all have more in common than we realize.”