Lessons from Paris

paris_webNUTLEY – 

A couple of weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, a Nutley woman contacted the local Police Department with some concerns about a neighbor.

Back then, the advice, “If you see something, say something,” was new, but she had already seen something that she found curious — and disturbing.

The woman told an NPD detective about a fellow tenant in the building where she lived, a man who had moved in a couple of months before and who had questioned her about such things as the local Neighborhood Watch program, police patrols, the routes first responders commonly took, etc.

That had been well before 9/11, when the average American’s antennae were not up, but the unusual queries were still on her mind. And then she saw something. She was walking past her neighbor’s apartment when he opened his door, and she briefly glanced inside. Although he had been living there for awhile, there didn’t appear to be a stick of furniture in the place. But there was some wall decor: A large map of the United States, with various locations marked in red.

That was the day she called the police.

The Nutley detective she spoke to contacted the FBI about her report. “They came with another agency and took the man into custody,” he said.

We do not know the eventual outcome, since that information is classified, but obviously, the feds were concerned enough to react. If the woman had not called, or if the NPD had simply filed an internal report, “24 hours later he [the neighbor] could have been gone,” the detective told us last week.

That detective was Steven Rogers, who joined the Nutley PD in 1976, retired in 2011 as commander of the Detective Bureau, and is currently a Nutley Township commissioner. Following last Friday’s bloodbath in Paris, we sought him out in an effort to gain some clarity on how this latest terrorism might impact community law enforcement.

Why Rogers? Because he is a go-to guy on such matters as international terrorism and homeland security, as you might already be aware if you have caught any of his interviews on CNN and Fox News over the years. He was back on the air Friday. And here are his creds:

Rogers, as a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, studied military intelligence at the U.S. Naval War College and later was assigned to brief U.S. military personnel on issues related to nations hostile to the United States. Following 9/11, he was recalled to active duty with the Office of Naval Intelligence in Norfolk, Va. Promoted to the rank of Lt. Commander, he then joined the U.S. Northern Command as a Senior Naval Intelligence Officer for the FBI National Joint Terrorism Task Force, serving in Washington until returning to the NPD in 2004.

In our interview, we asked him what stateside, and community, lessons might be learned from what transpired in Paris, and from how it transpired. “In order to prevent attacks here,” Rogers said, “ we have to enhance our internal security by providing more training and funding to municipal police departments.” He means specific anti-terror training.

“Local law enforcement officers (note that he was speaking in general, not particularly about Nutley) are trained in many areas — how to deal with domestic violence, with bias crimes, etc. — but the world is changing” and the focus needs to be expanded. That means also expanding beyond the tactical training that is already provided.

Rogers noted that although large cities like New York, Boston and Los Angeles are prepared to address terror attacks, there needs to be more attention paid to educating the street cops in America’s smaller communities in intelligence gathering. “Officers need to know how to identify what could be valuable intelligence information that would be forwarded to the FBI and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies for analysis,” he explained. And that’s when he related the story about the Nutley woman who was concerned about the neighbor.

The terrorists “are probably going for larger targets,” not small communities like Nutley, Kearny, Belleville, et al, “but they could be anywhere,” Rogers said, adding, “And they’ve got to live somewhere.”

“I’ve studied the Al Qaeda training manual, and it contains specific instructions on how to blend into a community and be a part of the community,” he warned.

“It’s a chilling perspective . . . .”

A terror operation requires a lot of reconnaissance. When the operatives are in a community, “they are looking at things like police response,” Rogers noted, citing the questions the neighbor had posed to the Nutley woman.

“I think we underestimate the intelligence of the enemies we’re dealing with,” he cautioned.

The former detective emphasized how “a lot of major crimes are solved through motor vehicle stops.” (Editor’s note: Read the police blotters in The Observer.)

Just as street cops know what to look for regarding apparent weapons and drug crimes, they need to know what to look for to I.D. someone who might have links to terrorism. We were given one example, which we shall not share, except with a cop. But the point is, there is expertise available; it needs to be brought to the local law enforcement levels.

How to accomplish that? Police departments “could have military intelligence personnel, Homeland Security, the FBI, come in and give classes,” Rogers said.

But what about the cost to departments that are financially strapped? “Go to the people (from such agencies) who are retired,” he said, adding, “They would come in without any price, I am sure. We still have patriots in this country.”

He also noted, “We have very, very good police chiefs throughout New Jersey. But we need to give them all the tools they need to protect their communities.”

Of the overall, continuing terror threat, Rogers stated, “We are living in extraordinary times, with extraordinary circumstances, and we might have to do some extraordinary things to protect our country. It’s either we do, or we die.”

Asked if that couldn’t be viewed as a bit alarmist, he responded, “I would challenge anyone who says that to sit down one day and read the reports. I would challenge them to go to Paris and see what took place. I would challenge them to talk to some of our military personnel who have dealt with terrorists.”

As for America’s current global anti-terror policy, Roger commented: “I’ve said for months on the media circuit that the U.S. government has to address terrorism issues from a few fronts. One, obviously, is militarily. We need to launch an overwhelmingly catastrophic strike on ISIS in the Middle East. We have to decapitate them.”

Coincidentally, on Friday night, we were alerted to a just-issued message from N.Y.C. Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to his officers, citing the anti-terror role of — and need for awareness by — not only the NYPD’s specialized tactical units, but every member of the force. It read:

“Tonight’s attacks in Paris are atrocities, and for the second time this year the Department sends its deepest sympathies to the citizens of the City of Light.

“They have borne too much.

“But here in New York City, we must rededicate ourselves to the mission of keeping this city and her people safe. It’s what we do. There is no known nexus between the attacks in Paris and New York City, but we are cops, and we are cautious. Hercules Teams, CRC [Counterterrorism Response Command], and SRG [Strategic Response Group] are all deployed throughout the city tonight — as are you.

Observer file photo Nutley Commissioner Steven Rogers.
Observer file photo
Nutley Commissioner Steven Rogers.

“All of you who wear the blue are the guardians who watch over this city, and, when necessary, the warriors who fight for her.

“Tonight, tomorrow, and in the days to come, be vigilant, be prepared, be aware.

“And, as ever, be safe.”

On a final note, it appears that European police might also benefit from Bratton’s and Rogers’ calls for vigilance and awareness. Late Sunday night, news broke that one of the Paris terror suspects had managed to escape by car to Belgium. He reportedly had been stopped at the border for an MV check. And the border cops let him continue on his way.

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