THE MAGAZINE

Creating Public Support for SARs

By Matthew Harwood

On the federal level, the NSI-Program Management Office (PMO)—which is responsible for developing and maintaining the standards, policies, and processes to ensure that SARs are shared across all levels of government—is already addressing many of the concerns and recommendations found in the report in partnership with the IACP and others, says its director, David Sobczyk.

In a March “call to action,” the NSI-PMO along with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and associations, including the IACP, advised that all NSI partners should use the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign to raise the public’s awareness of suspicious activity indicators.

The difficult portion of this effort is educating the public on what constitutes suspicious activity. According to the NSI, there are 16 behaviors and indicators potentially associated with terrorist activity. That’s an unwieldy sum, says Sena, and one hard to communicate to the public in billboards and public-service announcements. Some local and state law enforcement and homeland security agencies have distilled the list into a more manageable seven or eight and have produced videos explaining those, he says.

The NSI-PMO, in cooperation with the IACP and DHS, has also developed guidance for community leaders under the Building Communities of Trust (BCOT) Initiative to help chip away at any distrust between police and the communities they serve so that people feel more comfortable reporting suspicious activity. They want to dispel the fear that the government is compiling dossiers on everyone. “That’s not what we do,” says Sena.

The BCOT guidance provides various recommendations to community leaders, such as advising them to communicate their community’s cultural and religious practices to local law enforcement to improve relations and to minimize the potential for misunderstandings.

As the guidance notes, this is important because immigrant and minority communities historically have had poor relationships with law enforcement, something the NSI-PMO wants to change. The NSI-PMO always stresses that suspicious activity reporting should be based on behaviors—“the ‘what,’ not the ‘who,’” says Sobczyk.

One process issue that continues to be debated is how to get SARs from the public to the appropriate agency in the most efficient way possible, says NFCA Director Ross Ashley.

A solution pitched to DHS was a standardized “See Something, Say Something” application for smartphones, he says. “It would be universal,” Ashley explains. “It would be aware of where you are, and it would instantaneously take the information in a common standard format and send it to the fusion center wherever the person was.” This way people wouldn’t have to know where they were or know how to contact the nearest and most appropriate law enforcement agency.

The solution, however, was rejected primarily for two reasons, says Ashley.

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