Have a Merry Global Warming Christmas!

Yeah, yeah … I know.

“That’s not “climate”, it’s just weather!”

Still …

I’m really getting into this Winter Global Warming/Cooling/Wetting/Drying/Changing thing.

I also picked up the parts I needed to get my snowblower into top working condition, thereby ensuring we will not get any snow this Winter. Maybe in July …

So here’s an apropos Christmas song for the new tropical Eastern United States!

Merry Christmas from the Cranky Man!

Montgomery County Republican Party … “Lost in Space”!

Montco-GOP-300x297Maybe when past and present leaders of the Montgomery County Republican Party (MCRC: Montgomery County, PA) look back over the past few years, they can pinpoint the moment when – and reasons why – things went bad.  Maybe they can dissect the personalities, grudges, and internal issues that caused the slide down the slippery slope.  Maybe they will have an understanding of what went wrong and why.  And maybe they have an idea of how to get it all back on track.

Maybe …

I’m not all that confident.  The County Party looks like the hapless Family Robinson from “Lost in Space” (the original TV series 1965-1968, not the movie).  Not sure exactly who is playing of Doctor Smith, but there are several candidates.  Like castaways in an immense expanse of universe, there’s a feeling of hopelessness.

Admitting you have a problem – a REAL problem – is always the first step in Recovery.  And Recovery is certainly what we need!

I do not consider myself a Committee insider.  I do not pretend to know the reasons or – more importantly – The Answers.  Maybe I should know.  Maybe if more of us in grassroots positions were more deeply involved, we might know.

Maybe that would have made a difference.  Maybe …

But I doubt it.

As a Committee Representative since 2006, I have attended some MCRC functions, though admittedly not enough of them.  Fact is, as your typical run-of-the-mill foot soldier, you are like a pawn on the chessboard … eyes forward and taking the heat.  You do the grunt work because it’s important to you and to your Community.

The politics of the politics?  We let the politicians weed that garden.  We allow them to make the sensitive political decisions in the belief they have The Big Picture.

Maybe there’s a good reason for that … party unity,  less distraction from the goals of developing the best candidates and winning elections, the appearance of stability and reliability to present to fund-raisers and contributors …

But how’s that been working out for you on Election Day?

The problem with that mindset is that we – the Party’s ground game – lose sight of where the boat is being driven or worse the direction the boat is drifting.  Somehow that has to stop.

My personal MCRC experience can be summed up in the following vignettes:

  • Pride and excitement in the election of Bruce Castor and Jim Matthews to the County Board of Commissioners in 2007 even though Democrats grabbed five row-office positions.
  • Hair-pulling aggravation as the Castor-Matthews relationship imploded into a farcical mess that – hindsight will show – sent the Party spinning out of control.
  • PA State Rep Mike Vereb

    PA State Rep Mike Vereb

    Pride and excitement at the election of State Representative Mike Vereb as MCRC chairman after the unconscionable behavior of a person who shall remain nameless.  I even wrote a glowing review of Mike’s fantastic acceptance speech a scant two years ago.

  • Confusion and frustration in witnessing – from afar – the infighting between The Committee and Joe Gale, the un-endorsed winner of a spot on the 2015 GOP ticket and the ONLY Republican – aside from Risa Vetri Fermin – to win their general election vote.
  • Disbelief that Republicans did not win a single row office in November 2015.

My own personal, foot-soldier/committee representative/Republican voter view is that the GOP in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania can’t seem get out of its own way.  What was a troubling anomaly in the Castor-Matthews imbroglio became a trend in the MCRC-Gale falling out.

I do not pretend to know all the reasons, the personal issues, ill-will, prideful stances, or nasty accusations that led to a voter-endorsed candidate being ostracized from our own Election Day GOP Party recommendations.  I just have the impressions that the episode was a case of cutting one’s nose off to spite their face; indicative that the MCRC had gotten even worse – not better – since Castor and Matthews had their schoolyard tiff; and instead of working towards Party unity, was trapped in a distrustful downward spiral.

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Commissioner-elect Joe Gale

Not that we could possibly get much lower than the dazed, bloodied, and laying flat-out on the floor position we find ourselves in today.

So this Tuesday, we will vote for the next chapter in MCRC history.  This time around we have a wealth of candidates looking to become County Party Leader.  Some I know, some I don’t.

I’ll be looking for someone who gets what’s important.  Not The How we got to the lowly place we find ourselves, what’s most important is how do we get back where we were … back where we deserve to be!

With that in mind, I will be sending a link to this blog post to all of the candidates with the opportunity to respond here with their views on getting the CLIMATE of the MontCo GOP right for a Future unclouded by internecine feuds.  I do not want to hear about training committee representatives, improved communications, or changing the Party structure.  In my humble opinion, our problems are BIGGER than that!

Keep an eye here, if you wish.  Maybe we’ll get some answers …

Maybe …

I intend to go to Tuesday’s election meeting out of an obligation to contribute what little I can to making sure the Party is in the best position to recover from this not-so-special episode of “Lost in Space”.

Montgomery County and the Republican ideals we value deserve a much better effort!

 

Playing Politics with Horsham’s Water

imagesTip O’Neill, the long ago Democrat Speaker of the House from Massachusetts was fond of saying, “All politics are local.”  When it comes to voting in local elections, History is an effective barometer of Future Success.

In Horsham Township, Success is not a theory or a couple of good terms in office. It’s a history built over DECADES of Growth, Efficiency, and the kind of Vision that built a community lauded as one of the Best Places to Live (Horsham #34, CNN/Money Magazine 2013).

Republicans Gregory Nesbitt and Mark McCouch have been cornerstones of an effort focused on Growth, managed properly and carefully, that has resulted in Township taxes that have not been raised in over a decade; Efficiency that has ensured your streets and neighborhoods are kept safe; operating smoothly; and cleared of snow in the winter; and Vision that sparked the intuitive action to establish the Horsham Local Redevelopment Authority (HLRA), preserving for Horsham residents control over the key decisions surrounding the BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) closure of the NAS-JRB Willow Grove airbase.

As promising as History has been and the Future will be for Horsham, that Success proves a bit of an obstacle for those looking for competing political gratification.  To be serious political players though you should – at least – have ideas and plans of your own that are practical and work in the Best Interests of the Horsham community.

As it appears however, Democrat challengers William Gallagher and Veronica Hill-Milbourne are falling a bit short on original Ideas and Plans.  They really have nothing else with which to challenge a very successful History of Republican Success.  So instead they went straight to Community Scare Tactics!

Scare tactics intended to get you worked up over problems already competently addressed.  Scare tactics that threaten to mar the reputation Horsham has worked hard for decades to cultivate.  Scare tactics that could ruin property values and affect the financial health of every family in Horsham Township.

news148608122014110441Horsham Water has been a concern of everyone in the Township for years.  Since abandoning the JRB-NAS Willow Grove base in 2011, the Navy in conjunction with the HLRA have been working hand-in-hand to resolve issues of soil contamination at several sites on the base.  All this is Public Knowledge, provided in open forums to Horsham residents at a number of presentations and HLRA meetings as the Township slogged determinedly through the BRAC portion of the redevelopment plan.

At every step of the way, through the decision to create the HLRA; developing a community approach to the decision-making process; deciding whether an airport might be the best choice (It still wasn’t!); to the submittal of a top-notch redevelopment plan, the Community has been involved.  When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first discovered the problem of PFAS/PSOA contamination, the residents of Horsham were notified promptly and the wells in question immediately taken off-line.

The Township and the U.S. Navy have held at least two public forums opened to Horsham and other regional residents to discuss the findings, the health risks, the origins of the contamination, testing plans, mitigation efforts, and remedies.  Horsham procured excess water capacity from surrounding communities to offset the loss of affected wells.

Personally, that doesn’t sound like Township Leadership unconcerned about the community or the health of its residents.  And let’s not forget that the responsibility for contaminant mitigation and the COSTS involved in such efforts are the responsibility of the U.S. Navy!

Yet somehow this is where township Democrats and something called the Horsham Safe Water Coalition (HSWC), a group supposedly concerned only about the health of Horsham residents, wants to use as a political crowbar.  Funny though, that despite the alleged “non-political nature” of the HSWC, the only people shown on its website are the two Democrats trying to land seats on Horsham’s Township Council.

logo-2012You have to wonder, where Mr. Gallagher and Ms. Hill-Milbourne have been spending all their time while many of us were learning the intricacies of Horsham’s water?  Were they even present during the HLRA presentations, redevelopment co-ops, and approval meetings?

Did they visit the Horsham Township Community Centers where the U.S. Navy presented their Environmental Impact Study (EIS)?  Did they rush over to the community center when the Navy and EPA provided all information on contaminants and answered questions from all visitors?  What plans have they posted aside from claims not supported by FACT and accusations that reek of a self-serving political objective?

Now from experience, I can say not many people attended those Navy/EPA presentations.  I attended all but one, and I learned everything I needed to know about the water problems caused by PFOS/PSOA, the steps being taken to determine the full scope of the problem, and how the Navy expected to mitigate the contamination.

By now you have seen the campaign literature from the HSWC.  And the HWSC is without question the political cover for two Democrat political assassins.  This is the ONLY strategy, the only “contribution” the Democrats can offer.  They want in, and are unafraid to do ANYTHING to win!

epaScare tactics … Blurring the truth … Accusing Horsham Township’s leaders of “doing nothing”!  Even though the evidence shows direct participation, quick action, and complete openness to Horsham residents about a serious issue when it comes to the current quality of Horsham’s water.

So ask yourself the following, given all that we know about how Horsham Township Council has conducted its oversight of the NAS-JRB redevelopment process, the U.S. Navy’s commitment to openness and swift reaction to serious issues, and the efforts taken by both entities to keep Horsham residents informed …

  • Did the Democrats start caring about Horsham’s water recently?  Did they bother to learn the issues for themselves?
  • Did they not appreciate that the U.S. Navy bears the responsibility to correct the well water issue?
  • Were the Democrats really unaware of the quick, decisive action taken when the well water problem first came to light?

Are the Democrats so desperate that they would resort to misleading scare tactics in a lie to win a couple of Township Council seats?

Do they think that tactic is worth the potential damage publicity might inflict on Horsham property values?

Well, certainly the Democrats sound extremely desperate.  And Desperate is as Desperate does!

But is that the kind of Leadership you really want in Horsham?!?  I know I don’t!

Vote Mark McCouch and Gregory Nesbitt
 for Horsham Township Council!

Election Day:  Tuesday, November 3

Citizens Police Academy: SWAT and hostage negotiations

imagesOur last full session of the Hatboro and Horsham Citizens Police Academy was held on April 8.  The topics were Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) squads and the skillful discipline of hostage negotiation.

The SWAT concept was born out of a range of incidents that occurred in the late 1960s.  Incidents like the University of Texas clock tower sniper and the riots that followed the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr. dramatically highlighted the need for teams of law enforcement officers trained specifically in more skillful and specific methods of resolving complex crises.

The clock tower sniper shootings occurred over just an 80-minutes,16 people were killed, 32 wounded in a systematic attack launched from a strategically difficult to suppress firing position.  It wasn’t resolved until three police officers took matters into their own hands.  Accompanied by a civilian, they arrived on the balcony hiding the sniper’s 27 stories above the university mall.

These officers had no specific tactical training for the event or anything similar to what present day SWAT team members receive.  They had no special weapons, using their normal service weapons, a rifle and shotgun.  They were successful primarily because the civilian accidentally fired the rifle he was carrying, which distracted Charles Whitman, the U.S. Marine-trained sniper, as two officers approached his sniper’s nest from the other direction.

The evening started with a demo room incursion by members of the Eastern Montgomery County SWAT.

Eastern Montgomery County SWAT (EMCSWAT) was formed in 1989 and currently holds responsibility for the communities of Hatboro, Horsham, Rockledge, Upper Moreland, Lower Moreland, Bryn Athyn and Jenkintown.  There are plans to incorporate the SWAT teams and areas of responsibility for Abington and Cheltenham with EMCSWAT to form Montgomery County SWAT East.

Some statistics on SWAT activity:

  • 17,000 police departments in the U.S.
  • 1200 tactical SWAT teams
  • Only 49 SWAT teams are “full-time”, dedicated fully to SWAT assignments
    • usually located in large metropolitan areas (Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, etc.)
  • 1999 study showed 566 SWAT incidents nationwide
    • 520 were resolved without shots fired
    • 368 wanted criminals or suspects apprehended
  • In the Eastern Montgomery County area, 90% of SWAT assignments are for serving warrants or to resolve barricade situations (taking of hostages or refusal to surrender within a structure)
  • EMCSWAT averages 1 assignment per month, and has had just ONE INCIDENT where shots were fired!

All SWAT operations consist of the following responsibilities:

  • Perimeter: Outer perimeter manned by uniformed patrol, inner perimeter by SWAT team members
    • Inner perimeter: containment of immediate hostile environment, relay close-in intelligence to Command, ready to control or neutralize threat in any attempt to escape containment or in hostile action.
  • 5021bb06d6caa.imageNegotiator: Sole contact with person-of-interest (POI).  Works to calm subject and control situation.  Relies on available intelligence to decipher situation looking for a “hook” that will appeal to the subject and resolve the standoff.  Stationed away from immediate scene.
    • Assistant Negotiator writes all communications down; monitors progress; reminds Negotiator of pertinent information
  •  Sniper and Observer:  Occupies high ground and provides cover to other responders
    • Average SWAT sniper shot distance: 60 yards
  •  Entry team:  Responsible for entry with a plan should situation warrant
  • Emergency Action Team:  Prepares for “hot” entry without a plan should situation suddenly change requiring quick entry action.
  • Intelligence Unit:  Looks to develop information (the hook) on the POI that can be used to de-escalate situation and elicit surrender
  • Command:  Manages the overall operation; ensures negotiators get what they need; responsible for overall safety

Controls:

  • Pennsylvania prohibits negotiators from recording Negotiator-POI communications unless a warrant is obtained.
  • All potential SWAT incidents are evaluated BEFORE SWAT in authorized to act.  Instrument is a one page chart/questionnaire used to summarize the hostile situation, scored on a weighted scale
    • 0-14:  no SWAT action required
    • 14-20:  requires consult with on-scene commander to determine SWAT appropriateness
    • 20 <:  SWAT action required

Qualifications and training:

  • Minimum two years of service in police duties
  • Rookie school:  40 hours training, usually off-site (e.g. FBI school, Quantico, VA)
  • Regular shooting qualifications: must shoot at 90% proficiency
  • Two scheduled 12-hour training days per month, attendance at one required
  • Annual trips to Ft. Indiantown Gap or Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst where building mockups are available

9607035417_35acb0e8a0_bThe most interesting insight was the expression of what a successful SWAT intervention consists:  no shooting, no assault, no injuries, and the peaceful resolution of the immediate situation.  Another interesting perspective was the answer to the question often asked these days about the “militarization” of police departments.  The point was straightforward and one with which it is hard to argue.  The most successful SWAT operations occur when the POI sees scores of cops, some dressed in a full complement military gear.  They see the vast array of equipment and perhaps the sounds of a helicopter overhead.  And they decide the most reasonable course of action is to walk out of the building – empty-handed – to be taken into custody safely.

Shock and awe might be the cop’s best friend!

The second half of the session addressed hostage and standoff negotiations, where the first choice of law enforcement is – once again – the peaceful resolution of the most easily inflamed situations.  The presentation was given by retiring Detective Dave Bussenger, a former negotiator who stepped aside to ensure experienced negotiators were developed before he left the force to retire.

download-41Bussenger’s presentation, rich in personal experience and the insight gained through years of being the #1 Negotiator, made you want to pay close attention.  His most surprising tidbit was his belief that the movie Dog Day Afternoon (Al Pacino, John Cazale) was perhaps the best portrayal of what an actual negotiation situation is really like.

Detective Bussenger confided that what drove him to be successful in his negotiations was to consider the consequences of failure … the lives affected on both sides if a subject could not be talked out peaceably.  He allowed that one of the most important skills he had as a negotiator was the ability to understand what a subject was feeling and experiencing during a standoff.

He allowed that the BEST thing he could hear from a barricaded criminal was a set of demands, no matter how bizarre or impractical.  The reason?  It indicated that the  ensnared individual WANTED to live because they had a plan for surviving.

The worst scenarios were those where the individual had hostages trapped with him that he knew intimately (spouses, parents, siblings, friends) yet made no demands for resolving the standoff.  This characterized an expressive form of behavior that set a red flag for the negotiator.  Many are suffering from psychological issues like severe depression or chemical imbalances or inappropriate emotional responses.  These situations hold the greatest potential for suicide.

Bussenger listed the characteristics of a good negotiation:

  • Patience
  • Soothing voice
  • Finely tuned listening skills
  • Ability to leave emotion out
  • Conveying the message that the negotiator is there to help
Police+Seal+Off+CBD+Negotiators+Talk+Man+Building+WbNq4gtsjPGl

Negotiators with potential suicide victim

A successful negotiator insists from the very beginning that the subject must come out; he can never lie to the subject; never say “no”; and must be able to empathize with the subject’s perspective.  And in cases where suicide is a possibility, the negotiator must be able to stress the stark realities of taking such action versus the other positive options and outcomes available.

The first 15-45 minutes of any potential standoff situation is the most important.  In cases where mental instability is present the negotiator can never indulge in the subject’s hallucinations, less he set himself up to caught in a lie and destroying all trust.

Negotiating teams generally include 4-10 individuals.  The primary negotiator will conduct all direct contact with the POI.  A support negotiator takes note of all communications and assists the primary in tracking progress and keeping tabs on details.  In the meantime an Intelligence component of the group will speak to family and friends in an attempt to glean pertinent information and discover a “hook” which can be used to bring a standoff to a successful conclusion.

Citizens Police Academy: Anti-Terrorism

When you attend your local Citizens Police Academy – and you should – you will learn a lot about the mundane and terrifying aspects of being in law enforcement.  Much if it is interesting, some of it only in the sense of appreciating a difficult job.  But some of what you will learn can be fascinating.  And that was the case when retired FBI Agent Jeffrey Tomlinson stood in front of us to address the topic of Anti-Terrorism as a law enforcement function.

police-academy-banner

… and in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Mr. Tomlinson spent 20 years in the FBI, beginning in 1990.  He was a local kid, who attended William Tenet High School and graduated from West Chester University.  In a unique twist. Tomlinson followed up 20 years of FBI service by giving back to local communities, as Safety Director for the Hatboro-Horsham School District and as a patrol officer in Hulmeville Borough, Bucks County!

He currently teaches Law Enforcement Management and Terrorism at DeSales University, where he earned his Masters Degree in Criminal Justice.

His first assignments took him to New York City, working organized crime.  He was part of the FBI team that investigated the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.  In 1998 he was transferred to Philadelphia, where he worked anti-terrorism.  On September 11, 2001 he was – bizarrely enough – one of many law enforcement types attending an anti-terrorism workshop in Quantico, Virginia.

Mr. Tomlinson’s began his presentation with a look at where international terrorism has originated.  There are three primary sources:

  • Fallout from the Israeli-Palestinian
  • intra-Muslim competition (i.e. ShiaSunni conflict)
    • Roughly 85-90% of all Muslims are Sunni
  • Political groups within both competing brands of Islam (al Qaeda vs. ISIL, Hamas vs. Hizbollah vs. PLO)

The largest confrontation seen today is that between those opposing brands of Islam and their attempts to dominate the Muslim world through competing caliphates.  Currently, the Shia sects, aligned with Iran are pushing to control and confine the Sunni attempts to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

This has led to much violence between Islamic sects as opposed to conflicts between Islam and the outside world.  Of particular consequence is the recent declaration of a caliphate that challenges Iran’s ruling clergy’s very purposeful march to establish their own.  One that could someday occupy the lands from the Arabian Sea, through the entirety of Iran through Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean Sea.

Iran-sponsored shia caliphate could cover all of Iran from the Arabian Sea to the northern part of Iraq and through all of Syria to the Mediterranean

This becomes more dangerous when one also considers the recent advances of the Houthis, another Shia sect, in Yemen.  A quick look at the map presents a picture of Saudi Arabia, home of the Sunni religion and its most precious religious sites, surrounded on three sides by Shia interests.

This development gives perspective to recent Saudi military action against the Houthis in Yemen.  Obviously, the Saudis are very concerned with the advance of Shia interests.

Mr. Tomlinson then took a look at how the U.S. became one of the favorite targets of Islamic extremism leading up the disastrous attacks of September 11, 2001.  I found this portion of the presentation most interesting, though most of the information was quite familiar to me.

As one who was present in NYC for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Tomlinson related how the 1990 Iraq invasion on Kuwait led to Osama bin Laden’s crusade against America.

This had always baffled me, how the U.S. went from friend of the insurgents fighting the Russians in Afghanistan to “infidels” despoiling the holy lands of Saudi Arabia in our allied defense of the Saudis from Saddam Hussein, a fellow Sunni.  When I read The Looming Towers, I learned how the U.S. became The Great Satan.  Itself a transformation of Islam’s portrayal of the Soviets as such in an attempt to consolidate Islamic forces and foment their return as a global power.

homeland-security-ctu-counter-terrorist-unit_v105_400xFrom here the discussion turned to the different approaches to terror taken by consecutive U.S. administrations.  After the ’93 WTC attack, the Clinton Administration viewed terror as a crime, where law enforcement efforts were considered the primary response.  Find the bad guys and bring them to justice.  After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush Administration sought a military response, which was not surprising, given the immensity of the attacks and the fact that a nation-state could be closely linked to a terror presence in Afghanistan.

Other topics of discussion included:

  • 9/11 Commission finding that the biggest intelligence failure was a lack of imagination
  • anti-terrorism (active fight against terrorism) vs. Counter-terrorism (prevention and disruption)
  • authorizing environment (US Constitution, NSA Act 1946, Executive Order 12333, Patriot Act)
  • fighting international terrorism vs. domestic sources (e.g. McVeigh – Oklahoma City)
  • implications of data mining used to gather anti-terror intelligence
  • workings of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) courts

From a counter-intelligence angle, I found the discussion of how our domestic law enforcement agencies attempt to penetrate local cultural concentrations and organizations to be very interesting.  Much of this discussion concerned the use of profiling in identifying terrorists coming into the country, as well as those already living here, who may be predisposed to joining terror organizations or acting as lone wolf attackers.  As bad a rap that profiling receives when it comes to everyday criminal activity, it is crucial in disrupting potential attacks from within.

How suspicious did they look before the Boston Marathon bombing?

How suspicious did the Tsarnaevs look before the Boston Marathon bombing?

Profiling looks at what they look like – demographically not racially (for example, 2nd generation immigrants or restless youth), where do they come from, recent travels, predisposition to extremism, etc.  This brought to light several keen observations, such as the large concentration of 2nd generation Palestinians in Northeast Philadelphia or the size of the Syrian community (3rd largest in the U.S. though mostly Christian) in Allentown.

Being aware of such demographics allows law enforcement to identify potential problem areas – terrorism wise – and community sources of intelligence.

This led to an interesting discussion of how counter-terrorism (prevention and disruption) efforts gain access to local community groups and individuals who would be distrusting of law enforcement encroachments or who might simply be scared of potential community backlash.

Terrorist actors, if active locally, will be ensconced to a degree within the anonymity of what otherwise could be a perfectly law-biding cultural community.  The problem of course is that most law enforcement types will stick out like a sore thumb in most such cultural communities.  The secret to finding them; collecting necessary intelligence; and infiltrating or arresting them is to penetrate the community and develop reliable sources (e.g. confidential informants) that will keep an ear to ground for trouble.  Investigators most work from the outside in.

One method for counter-terrorism investigators uses outstanding “wants and warrants” for individuals that might fit the profile of potential threat.  These warrants are prioritized within the cooperating law enforcement network; and an C-I agent might request to go along on any attempt to serve said warrant.  This gives the C-I types a chance to get inside for a look around, survey the subject’s immediate environment; evaluate potential sources for information or surveillance; and develop possible leads from the interactions.

fbi-seal-plaque-mMy major concerns prior to the Anti-Terrorism brief were improvements made to intelligence sharing that was a significant breakdown in the 9/11 attacks.  Former Agent Tomlinson addressed the improvements made since that fateful day.

  • Patriot Act did away with the “stove-piping” of terrorism information between sources of foreign intelligence and all levels of law enforcement.
  • Congress now requires annual presentations on how such intel is shared among the responsible national and local agencies.
  • Stronger relationships with the financial and banking communities has improved as a way to identify financial backers of terrorism.
  • Local law enforcement is a more active player in counter-terrorism.

The anti-terrorism presentation was one of the most fascinating sessions of the CPA thus far.  Other important takeaways from the seminar were:

  • Terrorism continues to be a serious threat across the globe.
  • Despite relative inactivity in this country, largely the result of improved intelligence and counter-terrorism operations, the potential for terrorism – both foreign and domestic – occurring here cannot be ignored.
  • Always pay attention to your surroundings.
  • Citizens can be the first to notice something amiss and are the best sources for local conditions and information.
  • Never be shy about reporting suspicious activity or potential evidence of such to law enforcement.  Let the experts decide what constitutes a legitimate threat.

Overall the most important message from the evening was that the successful fight against those who want to do us harm – regardless of where that threat originates – is heightened awareness, improved communication from the individual citizen all the way through the highest national authorities, and self-less cooperation among all those involved.

Citizens Police Academy: Crime Scene Investigations (CSI)

Even deep in the heart of Texas

Even deep in the heart of Texas …

During the course of two sessions the Hatboro and Horsham Citizens Police Academy covered Crime Scene Investigations (CSI).  Although I was unable to attend the first session, where Horsham detectives presented the framework of CSI work, do to more pressing matters.  As a result, those observations come to you through the eyes of a fellow classmate, Emily Ann.

The first CSI class was led by two of Horsham’s finest, Detectives David L. Bussenger and Robert J. Waltz.  The second CSI session came two weeks later, led by Montgomery County Detective Richard J. Nilsen, Jr. of the Forensic Services Unit in the Office of the District Attorney for Montgomery County, PA.

In the following description, only the names have been changed to protect the innocent …

Crime scene investigations are geared towards determining Who committed a crime by answering the questions

  • What took place?
  • When did it occur?
  • Where?
  • How?
  • Why?

The purpose of CSI is to determine what happened and who is responsible.  The ultimate goal is a proper “Guilty” verdict and punishment as set forth by the Court.

The investigative process begins with the initial police contact.

The first responding officers at any potential crime scene are responsible for rendering first aid and to summon an ambulance, if necessary.  They must also note what they see, hear, and smell … Time of day, weather conditions, people and vehicles at the scene and that might leave before investigators arrive.

Responding officers must also protect the crime scene from unnecessary traffic, disturbance, or contamination.  Responders will listen for what might be said by people on the scene and must separate any witnesses isolated from one another.  Witnesses are separated to prevent any comparison of their version of events and – if involved – to ensure they do not rehearse their stories.  All observations are then passed on to the assigned investigators.

Crime-Scene-Investigation-CareersThe investigators will call upon additional specialists as needed.  They include photographers, sketch artists, evidence recorders who maintain the “chain of custody” for all physical evidence, and experts from more specific fields of study … anthropologists, blood pattern analysts, and the medical examiner in cases of death.

Physical evidence is the bread and butter of law enforcement investigative work.  The chain of custody for that physical evidence is crucial to successful prosecutions.  Proper chain of custody allows for the identification and description of all aspects of the physical evidence months or years after its collection.  The chain of custody must be protected from any contamination and preventable degradation of biological samples.  For that reason, the chain of custody must be able to prove that all evidence was properly preserved and kept properly secured from tampering until presented in Court during the criminal trial.

Predictable physical changes in evidence, such as degrading tissue and blood samples cannot be entirely prevented.   The potential for an investigator to cause changes in evidence through improper technique must be anticipated and prevented.  Evidence recorders must be able to address anticipated changes in physical evidence (e.g. normal degeneration of blood and tissue samples) from the time the evidence is collected until it is presented in Court.

What-You-Should-Really-Know-about-Crime-Scene-InvestigationOnce investigators begin processing the immense amount of data from a crime scene, it’s important that they NEVER overlook the obvious.  After all evidence has been collected, photographed and sketched, and all witnesses have been interviewed, investigators will compare their initial findings to ensure all observations and individual perspectives are included.

Other considerations during an investigation:

  • Physical evidence does not lie.  Let it tell you what happened.
  • A hypothesis developed from the evidence and interviews is an important step.  But an investigator can never be afraid to change the theory especially if the physical evidence indicates a change is appropriate.

My friend, Emily Ann, described for me the highlight of that first CSI night … the crime scene adaptation presented by Detectives Bussenger and Waltz.  Emily Ann described a burglary crime scene laid out for the CPA participants with an array of physical evidence, challenging questions put to the participants, and the interesting way the detectives explained how they process such a crime scene.

Emily Ann found it interesting and quite instructive to see a crime scene laid out as an investigator might find it; and learning how they would go about weaving a theory from the physical evidence documented.

This was the angle that Detective Nilsen was really able to hammer home during his presentation on the second night of CSI.  He was able to provide both context and bit of visual discomfort as he provided very real and very graphic crime scene photos.  (All photos were carefully taken and framed so as to not reveal any details on the specific case or any information about the victims who were portrayed.)

But first Detective Nilsen had to blow away all my preconceived notions of detective work as I have gleaned from years and years of watching CSI: Miami/Las Vegas/NYC, eight different versions of Law & Order, and a healthy dose of Criminal Minds!  Apparently, most everything I have come to believe in watching detective TV is a farce, perpetrated by television’s need to fit a weeks or months-long story into 44 minutes (sans commercials).

KIRSTEN VANGSNESS

Penelope Garcia, Master Cyber-Detective Criminal Minds

There is no Garcia pounding furiously on a computer keyboard and able to provide everything from hat size and favorite color to the specific location and contents of last meal eaten for every crime victim, perpetrator, and key witness privy to the macabre details of any violent crime. There is no magical finger-printing system that churns through potential print matches as a detective watches, then spits out the matching perp in the time it takes to fix your mocha latte.  There is no crime lab that would let a regular detective jump right in, complete with a blue Tyvek hazmat suit to twiddle around with the DNA sequencing systems and scanning electro-microscopes (unless properly certified).

Great … Now I have another 6 hours a week I’ll have to find something productive to do …

Detective Nilsen’s presentation highlighted how such crime scene evidence as blood spatters, ballistics dynamics, corpse conditions (lividity, stage of mortiswound dynamics, etc.), transference of materials from perpetrator to victim, etc. all come together to prove the detective’s favorite adage …

Dead men DO tell tales!

Modern day detective's best friend

Modern day detective’s best friend

My personal “wow moment” was watching the animation generated by a piece of equipment called a Scan Station, a surveying type tool that provides a 360°, computer-generated survey of any potential crime scene.  The equipment is so sophisticated that once scanned a detective can visualize a crime scene from any angle (above, below, any side), even from “outside” the scene, as was proven when the class visualized a particular crime scene from outside then “flew” in through a window to view the interior of a virtual crime scene depiction.

Detective Nilsen, a former Lower Merion officer and Widener Law School graduate, also provided an in-depth look at fingerprint analysis and AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System), the dynamics of projectiles (bullets), DNA and blood collection, and a case study in the arrest and conviction of Charles “Acme John” Eichinger, one of his first cases as a MontCo detective.

The most important thing I learned from these two nights of CSI …

Crime is definitely not a good long-term job choice!

Citizens Police Academy: Use of Force and Active Shooter

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CPAs are popular all over the U.S.

The most anticipated session of the Hatboro and Horsham Citizens Police Academy occurred two weeks ago with the presentation of Use of Force as it applies to the difficult duties of criminal arrests and preserving public safety.  In the wake of recent controversies over the use of deadly force by police officers, I anticipated an extremely interesting presentation and lively discussion.

The Use of Force presentation was provided by Officer Mike Peters, a veteran of the Horsham Police Department since 1988.

The presentation began with the definition of Use of Force, which was mind-opening from the perspective that there is no single definition of Use of Force that’s generally accepted by police or other experts in the field of law enforcement.  For the purposes of our seminar the standard cited by the International Association of Chiefs of Police was used.

The amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling suspect.

From there the discussion moved to several key United States Supreme Court (USSC) cases, specifically Tennessee v. Garner and Graham v. Connor. 

Tennessee v. Garner involved a fatal police shooting of an unarmed burglary suspect who was attempting to flee from arrest.  A federal Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling against the shooting victim’s father in a $2 million lawsuit, citing the shooting as an excessive and unreasonable means of effecting Garner’s arrest.

Graham v. Connor involved the forcible arrest of a man exhibiting erratic behavior, including an apparent shoplifting, while in the throes of a diabetic attack.  Although officers had restrained Graham forcibly, he had been released as soon the true basis of the incident and Graham’s behavior were determined.  However, Graham still took police to task for the use of excessive force.

Both cases led the USSC to begin to identify those circumstances where force can be used appropriately.  As in Tennessee v. Garner, the Court has stated rather clearly that deadly force should only be used on a fleeing felon who poses a significant threat of harm to others.  In Graham v. Connor the USSC ruled that use of force should be applied under the “reasonableness standard” of the Fourth Amendment.

Next Officer Peters launched into a discussion of Pennsylvania’s legal standard for use of force as cited in Title 18 (Crime and Offenses), Chapter 5, § 508.  The Code sets forth the following (not all-inclusive):

  • Law enforcement need not retreat from efforts to effect an arrest because of resistance or violence.
  • Officers are justified in using such force as they believe necessary to make an arrest; to defend themselves; or to protect the public in the course of their duties.
  • Deadly force is authorized only when the officer believes such force is necessary to prevent serious injury or death to themselves or others.
  • Officers are authorized to use force, including deadly force, to prevent the escape of any prisoner from a correctional facility.

The process by which the officer’s belief that force is necessary is articulated in the Use of Force Report. These are used widely throughout the country to document an officer’s perspective in a use-of-force incident.

Use of Force Reports will include the following (not all-inclusive):

  • Background information, including number of officers and subjects involved, witnesses and specifics of the location (layout, tightness of quarters, maneuverability, obstacles, etc.)
  • Approach or why contact was initiated; reasonable suspicion, probable cause, warrants, disturbance call, etc.
  • Tactical considerations: approach, distance, positioning, tactics
  • Early warning signs or pre-attack posture of the subject (if applicable)
  • Conditions of the subject: mental, emotional, drugs/alcohol, crisis, control, etc.
  • Weapons: on the scene, available to officer and to subject
  • Special considerations: perception of threat; officer’s knowledge of the subject; officer injury, conditioning, exhaustion

Evaluation of use-of-force incidents will include all evidence and the perceptions of the officer(s) involved as expressed in interview and on the Use of Force report.  In addition, such evaluation will look at physical comparisons between the subject and officer (size, weight, gender, skill level of subject); specifics and limitations in the physical location, the subject’s perspective if available, steps of escalation and de-escalation, etc.

Obvious principles in the use of force normally apply during an arrest for known or suspected criminal conduct, which can occur under circumstances of reasonable suspicion; probable cause; or known wants and warrants.  Arrest can only be achieved when the subject/suspect is under control.

An often overlooked aspect of any use of force incident is the suspect/subject’s frame-of-mind and willingness to obey lawful commands.  Often this decision is clouded by alcohol, drug use, mental instability, or their mindset towards authority.

Use of force must cease once control has been effected.  An officer’s responsibility is to determine how much force is necessary to overcome resistance.  Part of that decision-making process are situational components, such as number of responding officers, physical characteristics of the subject (size, gender, conditioning, etc.), and the choice of options available to the officer(s).  These options, known as the Use of Force Continuum, are in ascending order of intensity:

  • simple dialogue
  • escort techniques
  • pain compliance (very difficult to use on actively resisting individuals)
  • mechanical control (e.g. painful manipulation of the arms)
  • chemical sprays (hard to control, harmful to all in close quarters)
  • impact weapons (e.g. batons)
  • firearms

image004The goal of any confrontation is to exert control.  An officer must have the mindset that he must win such confrontations 100% of the time (self-preservation), while considering the likelihood of establishing control vs. the potential damage to the subject.  Finally, the use of force frequently escalates and de-escalates several times in the course of one confrontation.

At this point, I have to be honest in my disappointment at the way the use of force presentation was structured.  This was the one presentation to which I was most looking forward; and I was disappointed for several reasons.  My primary disappointment was in the lost opportunity to have a frank, open, and honest discussion among a somewhat diverse audience that appeared extremely interested in the topic, particularly given recent controversies over police confrontations in places like Ferguson, MO and New York City.

My opinion, which I expressed to one of our instructors, was that too much information was crammed into this session, in part due to the inclusion of a presentation on active shooters which followed.  My suggestion was that Use of Force should be the lone topic for the evening with a suitable portion of the session dedicated to open discussion.  I believe this would serve as an opportunity for the instructors to provide their own most personal viewpoints and to instill a level of confidence in the public to whom these sessions are intended to reach.

To underscore this, I spoke to one of my fellow CPA attendees, a Liberian immigrant, who I discovered has been driving to Horsham from Northeast Philadelphia (roughly a 60-90 minute round trip) simply for the opportunity to learn and understand more about the role of law enforcement and the community-cop relationship.

Lawrence related his biggest question concerned why the community-cop relationship was so contentious.  (Living in Philadelphia certainly would provide a greater opportunity to witness such contention, in my opinion.) 

Lawrence framed the issue from his perspective in one way that confirmed some of my own opinions about the community-cop relationship and race.  He described his general experience with the police by stating that his limited interactions were much more contentious when a black cop was involved.  I took that to mean that for him it is more an issue of authority than race.

And that’s one crucial element of the community-cop relationship that might have benefitted from an open and honest classroom discussion on Use of Force.

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Active Shooter

The second half of the session was a presentation by the seminar’s work horse, SGT Pete Van Dolsen, Hatboro PD, that addressed Active Shooter situations, such as those at Columbine HS in Colorado (1999) and Virginia Tech University (2007).

Several crucial factors set active shooter situations apart from other criminal shootings:

  • The events are often well-planned by the perpetrators.
  • The shooters are very mission-oriented and as a result appear to remain very calm among the chaos they create.
  • The perpetrators often have trouble coping; are anti-social; and view themselves the victim of some wrong-doing

Prior to the calamity at Columbine, the police strategy in active shooter incidents was to surround, organize, then overwhelm the shooter(s).  Unfortunately the carnage at Columbine and the realization that in such incidents a death can occur every 8 seconds, changed that approach to one of immediate entry, search, confront, and arrest/neutralize.  The examples cited, going all the way back to the University of Texas clock tower shootings in 1966, illustrate that the quicker law enforcement engages the shooter, the sooner the killing of innocents stops.

There is no more time to kill when you are trying to evade capture or the aggressive suppression by trained officers.  In most cases, the shooter ends up killing themselves or completing their plan through suicide-by-cop.  In any case, aggressive police intervention changes the dynamic dramatically.  The shooter becomes focused on the police intervention.

One startling fact offered was the frequency in which shootings at schools has escalated.  Between 1966-96 there were 15 reported school shootings.  In 2013-14 there 17!

After several workplace shootings, my employer began offering training in surviving potential active shooter situations.  The need for this training was underscored in 2013 with the mass shooting that occurred at the Washington Navy Yard.

Our training emphasizes the following actions to take in an active shooter situation:

  1. Flee the area if at all possible
  2. If unable to flee, shelter in place preferably in a room with a door that locks without a window.
  3. If sheltering in place, make certain to follow all law enforcement instructions regardless of your state-of-mind or your assumptions of the shooter’s status.  Responders may not be convinced that all shooters are in custody or neutralized.
  4. If cornered with no escape path, fight with whatever is available.

Police reactions will adhere to the following pattern:

  • Contact mode:  location of the shooter is known
    • Contain, control, communicate, gather resources
  • Search mode:  location of shooter unknown
  • Rescue mode:  subject neutralized or gone from immediate area

First responder priorities in an active shooter situation will be the protection of:

  1. Shooting victims
  2. Other citizens
  3. First responders themselves
  4. Shooters

And so ended a very long night of rather depressing subject matter.