Horsham’s Water: The Way Forward

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Horsham residents listen at June 27 Council meeting on water quality. (Bucks Courier Times)

On June 27, 2016 the Horsham (Pennsylvania) Township Council held a meeting with residents where the issue of Horsham Water Quality was addressed in a presentation, followed by a period of Q&A.  This was the latest in a series of informational meetings specifically addressing perfluorinated compounds PFCs (PFOS/PFOA) in the township water supply as a result of operations at the now-closed NAS-JRB Willow Grove.  Previous information sessions were organized and staffed by elements of the U.S. Navy’s Base Review and Closure (BRAC) office, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Horsham Water and Sewage Authority (HWSA).

Of all the points to be made in writing this blog post, it must be recognized that pollution issues existing at the base for decades prior to BRAC are hopelessly entwined with the redevelopment effort.  Their impact in the redevelopment effort was anticipated by all parties from the very beginning.  The officials responsible for its management, Horsham Township Council, HLRA, and the U.S. Navy have always been up front and transparent, presenting all known information directly to area residents!

For this reason, I have been able to blog about the various complications that hazardous materials and pollutants pose to the community on at least FOUR occasions, marking Horsham’s progress in efforts to control the future of the NAS-JRB.

  1.  Horsham’s Big Wait, status of the airbase redevelopment (April 2013)
  2.  A Look at the NAS-JRB Willow Grove Environmental Impact Statement (February 2014)
  3. Water Contaminants and NAS-JRB Willow Grove (December 2014)
  4. Playing Politics with Horsham’s Water (October 2015)

images-2Regardless of how one feels about the U.S. Navy’s role of environmental indifference since the 1940s at NAS-JRB Willow Grove, the present-day Navy has been proactive, transparent, and honest about what was done on the Base; how it affects the residents of the surrounding communities; and identifying solutions for remediation.

You can find the latest information from the Horsham Water Quality presentation – available on-line.  The 38-page Powerpoint slideshow taught me a few new things about PFCs.

Some interesting points:

  • Just two months ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drastically lowered its PFC Health Advisory Level (HAL) from a high of 400 parts-per-trillion (ppt) for PFOA and 200 ppt for PFOS to 70 ppt.
  • PFCs are a National and International problem, with wide-ranging allowable levels for the substances’ projected effects on humans outside the U.S.  For example, in comparison to the current EPA standard (70 ppt), Canada allows 600 ppt for PFOS/200 ppt for PFOA; Germany and Great Britain allow 300 ppt for both substances. (This illustrates the largely unsettled science on PFCs and their potential health impacts.)
  • 98% of people tested around the globe have tested positive for PFCs.
  • One part-per-trillion (ppt) equals one drop of liquid to 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  The recently revised EPA HAL at 70 ppt would allow 70 drops of liquid over those 20 Olympic-sized pools!
  • Most PFC applications were phased out of production in 2015.

Of course none of these cute little facts serves to minimize the real health concerns of Horsham’s residents (or Warminster’s or Warrington’s).  Those concerns are real; should be researched and studied to determine the potential for effects on human health; and those effects – if any – mitigated with the costs accruing to the U.S. Government.

So what will be the way forward for Horsham’s water quality?

epaMy experiences in following the BRAC/HLRA processes have proven that Township officials and the U.S. Navy have been up-front, practical, and immediately responsive to all issues affecting the community. From making the earliest decisions on an airport; developing a redevelopment plan; and setting in place the organizational infrastructure to move the effort into its next stages.  This was no different when the EPA triggered the recent groundswell of public attention by significantly reducing the HAL levels for PFC compounds.

When the original HAL (400 ppt PFOA/200 ppt PFOS) levels were set in July 2014, both the Navy and Horsham Township responded quickly, and two municipal wells that tested above the HAL limit were taken off-line.  The same reaction was witnessed this past May when the EPA dropped the safe HAL level by several orders of magnitude.  The Navy set out immediately to test suspect wells; and the Township quickly removed HAL-exceeding wells from the municipal water system.

From this point-of-view, the problem of PFC contamination has been fairly easy to manage.  Removing offending wells from the municipal water system effectively reduces the level of contaminants in the system.  This approach is so effective, Horsham’s current PFC level is 18 parts-per-trillion … or less than one-third the current EPA HAL standard of 70 ppt!

Some suggest that all confidence is lost in the safe-ness of Horsham’s water supply.  For me, the experience is quite the contrary.  If it’s relatively easy to remove bad-testing wells from the water supply, Horsham’s water supply remains safe insofar as PFCs are concerned.  I continue to drink the local water as I did 30 years ago (or more), drinking water right out of hand pumps located on the old Hidden Springs golf course (now Commonwealth National Golf Club)!

However, safe water decisions resides with each township resident!  Nothing in my discussion is intended to downplay the seriousness of the issue. My approach here is rooted in a confidence based on the demonstrated reactions by those who manage our Township and its infrastructure – above and below ground.

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Granular Activated Carbon Filter

The long-range view is even more promising water-quality wise.  The solution is in the construction of Granular Activated Charcoal (GAC) filters.  The filters are large, custom-made, and housed in buildings roughly the size of a garage.  The filters are roughly $1 million per copy; and the U.S. Navy has agreed to pick up the costs associated with the construction and installation of the GAC filters!

The Township expects to have all five filters currently needed on-line by years end, resorting to temporary GAC filters while permanently housed filters are manufactured and installed.  It’s a solution that is reasonable, practical, and most importantly prompt and decisive!

One of my neighbors plans to invest in something called a reverse osmosis filter.  EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection do not recommend in-home filters as being particularly effective.  However, the reverse osmosis system is available with carbon filters which are effective in eliminating PFCs from the home’s water supply.

The most important point to remember however is that regardless of which choices you make in regards to your family’s water quality, none of us would have the information we need to make these choices, if those in charge of the NAS-JRB redevelopment effort were not completely forthcoming and demanding of the U.S. Navy in ensuring Horsham’s quality-of-life is protected!

 

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.

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… 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!