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America's Achilles Heel: Its Children. The Unthinkable Terrorist Act


So Many Children
So Much Blood
So Many tears
What will we do?

The soldier stood there erect, proud, and with a heavy heart. He looked at his wife and two children and struggled with saying good-bye. He was going to leave to fight terrorism in a country so far away. Here and now was his first battle. Looking into the eyes of his wife and children he struggled to be strong; to be the image that they would be proud of. It may be the last image he leaves them with. As he looked around the crowd of families he spotted a police officer saying good-bye to another soldier. He walked toward the officer and the officer saw him approaching. Their eyes met as the soldier extended his hand. As they shook hands the soldier said, “I am leaving and would like to ask you to do me a favor.” “Of course,” the officer responded. The soldier still gripping the officer’s hand said, “Don’t let them get my children.”

At the Texas Police Chiefs Conference in Austin, TX in January of this year Lt. Colonel Grossman (retired) of the Killology Research Group and author of On Killing and Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill spoke regarding killing and terrorism. The above illustration with the soldier should embarrass the men and women of the policing profession. As Lt. Colonel Grossman points out, the police are outgunned and unprepared. Soldiers, and all citizens, deserve better than what we currently offer for the protection of our children. They are our most precious resource.

Close your eyes and arbitrarily pick a day in the middle of the week several weeks from now. Imagine six elementary schools throughout the United States. It is a nice sunny average day. Children are in their classrooms being taught by dedicated, under paid teachers. It’s noon and the lunch bell rings. The usual organized chaos ensues as students pour from their classrooms into the cafeteria. During this moment of organized chaos, a well-dressed man, carrying a briefcase, enters the school and walks unchallenged to the cafeteria. As is the custom with many schools, parents, teachers, brothers, and sisters walk in and out of these schools frequently unchallenged. The difference is that they are not carrying explosives--enough explosives to kill everyone in the cafeteria, seriously injure those near the immediate blast area, and damage the facility beyond description. Imagine the blast, the carnage that follows--broken, twisted, blown apart little bodies and the bedlam that ensues. If you have a child, imagine that your child goes to that school. Now imagine that this incident occurs at these six different schools across the country all at the same time. The schools range from a small west Texas elementary to a private prep school in Washington D.C. The terrorists are telling us they can touch our children anywhere in the country. In the aftermath, the inevitable questions will be asked. How could this happen to this country again? Where were the police? These are questions the policing profession is unprepared to answer.

Why not target the schools? This has been the M.O. (modus operandi) for terrorists for a long time. When we look at the M.O. it’s easy to see what they do. Just watch the news. Attacks in other countries have been accomplished through car bombs, blowing up buses full of passengers, nightclubs full of patrons, churches, malls, and schools. They had previously tried to blow up the World Trade Center. It would be naïve to think they wouldn’t try again. We just didn’t think they would use airplanes as missiles. When the Washington D.C. snipers shot thirteen year old Iran Brown as he was walking into school, an emotional outcry resonated through the country. It became evident that if you really want to touch a nerve in this country… go after the kids.

In the event of an attack on our schools, what will the police do? With the death of a few thousand children will come a demand for action from the American people; what will it be? Schools across the country will close for an undetermined amount of time. The economic effect could be staggering. Imagine all these teachers out of work. Many parents may have to quit their jobs to stay home with their children. After September 11th the Federal Government declared war on terrorism while we were mourning our loss and trying to find a sense of direction. The government has taken the lead with legislation and funding. Through the efforts of the Transportation Security Administration it is unlikely that a terrorist will be able to commandeer another commercial aircraft. A small private aircraft full of explosives crashing into a school is a possibility. Through the strength and determination of the FBI and the CIA, the intelligence gathering capability of the United States government has become formidable and probably the reason we have not sustained another attack, yet. You can rest assured another attack is coming; it is not if, but when. On CNN September 6, 2001 in an article on the North Belfast School Crisis stated “There was widespread revulsion on Wednesday when militants threw a homemade grenade into the road as students aged four to eleven walked towards the school”. Frontline interview with Pakistani terrorist Mohammad Abdullah: “You killed 14 children. Four others who died were poor elderly people. How did you justify this massacre to yourself? I was not happy about it, and even told Abu Abdullah to send someone else. But he said it was necessary to establish our dehshat (terror).” Response of the Government of Israel to the Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, Professor John Dugard, dated March 2002, “It makes no mention of the tragic impact of terrorism on Israeli children who are savagely murdered by suicide terrorists in schools, and buses, in discotheques, pubs and pizza restaurants, in market places and in open streets, in shopping centers and in their very homes, on a daily basis.” The very idea of terrorists killing our children is so repulsive we deny that our children could become the victim of such an unspeakable act. If this can occur in other countries, what assurances do we have that it won’t occur here?

The mission of the Department of Homeland Security is “to develop and coordinate the implementation of a comprehensive national strategy to secure the United States from terrorist threats or attacks. The Office will coordinate the executive branch's efforts to detect, prepare for, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks within the United States.” When it comes to fulfilling the mission of Homeland Security and keeping our communities safe, the responsibility falls upon the federal government to acquire the appropriate intelligence but it will be the police officer on the street who will run into the fray when everyone else with any sense will be running away. Outgunned and unprepared, it becomes obvious that the police are the weak link.

An aggressive, proactive posture will be the key to our success. To strengthen our position we must have better coordination with our federal counterparts that receive relevant intelligence. This intelligence must be disseminated to the appropriate authorities. There needs to be additional “mandatory” training for all police officers regarding domestic as well as international terrorists. A national database for sharing information needs to be developed. The current status of police firepower needs to be re-evaluated. Police handguns against automatic shoulder weapons will result in the death of not only those who took the oath to protect and serve but also to civilians. The use of rifles by police has been the subject of much debate for several years. Having the equivalent of a military presence by the police carrying M-16 rifles in our schools would have a chilling effect on the learning environment but eventually could become a necessity. School administrators need to work with the police to find a common ground that facilitates a secure and thriving academic environment.

Technology in conjunction with accurate intelligence is our most useful tool. Funds need to be made available to enhance the security of our children’s schools through technology and additional security. A needs assessment should be performed. Just throwing money at the problem will not solve the problem. People will solve the problem. There should be a balance between the police mission, it’s ability to have access to relevant intelligence, and the technology that is available.

School administrators are urged to meet with their law enforcement agencies and work out a strategy to meet the current threat and a contingency plan (critical incident management) should the threat become a reality. A strategic plan for each school should take into consideration the organization’s resources and having established clear goals, objectives, tasks, time frame, accountability, and follow-up schedule, a strategic plan can come to fruition responsive to the dynamic academic and policing environment utilizing the P.O.L.I.C.E. Leadership Methodology (Planning, Organizing, Liability, Information, Control, Ethics). School and police officials must consider hardening the target (school) with procedures similar to airport security where appropriate. Officials can use volunteer parents, school officials, and security guards to augment the police. These civilian assets must be trained to recognize potential threats.

It is natural during times such as these to profile people. Is it wrong? Of course, but it is going to happen nonetheless, especially when we are utilizing civilians to recognize potential threats. A Middle Eastern parent approaching a school to get their child is going to be profiled. On the same hand, does it mean someone like Timothy McVae could just walk right in? No one should be able to walk right into a school unchallenged. There are many schools that have police officers assigned to them. They are usually assigned so that there is a police presence to deter internal violence and gang activity. Some police officers are assigned to schools to provide public relations, teach D.A.R.E. and other classes. An external attack has not been a high priority for most school administrators or police agencies. The S.W.A.T. team in Shreveport, LA has recently started training for a suicide bomber scenario. There are other agencies like Shreveport who are working to be prepared, but S.W.A.T. teams are usually reactionary police assets who respond when something has already happened. It is time for a paradigm shift. They need to be proactive and working with the schools. The majority of schools don’t have a S.W.A.T. team readily available to them for threat level assessment and training. Again, they must rely on the police officer on the street that is always the first responder and the first to run in when everyone else is running out.

Summary

America’s most precious resource is not it’s oil, gold, technology, or American might. Its most precious resource is its children. What better way to hurt the American people than by killing its children? We realize this is a possibility as we examine the acts of terrorists. Killing children and blowing up schools have been the past practice of terrorists and it would be naïve to believe this could not happen in America. The America people, school officials, and the police must be prepared but must not overreact. Through a coordinated effort between the schools, intelligence community, the utilization of technology, and the police, a strategy must be developed designed to be proactive to thwart potential attacks as well as reactionary in the event an attack should be successful.

If an attack on our children is successful the response from the American government must be of such magnitude that terrorists would consider the consequences prior to another attempt. Imagine Charlie Gibson on Good Morning America saying, “America is reeling from an attack on six elementary schools. Many young school children are dead, injured, and missing. There has even been an unconfirmed report that tears could be seen streaming down the face of the Statue of Liberty. What will we do?”

Submitted by:

MIchael Keller

Michael A. Keller has been in the public safety profession since 1973 attaining the position of Chief of Police & Director of Public Safety. He is the CEO of the Keller Consulting Group. He has consulted with police agencies on issues involving Police Management and Planning, Leadership, Employee Discipline, Internal Investigations, Criminal Investigations, and investigations regarding the Sexual Exploitation of Children. He is a member of Project ALERT and Team ADAM, with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He holds a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Police Administration, is a graduate of the Leadership Command College, and a graduate of the FBI National Academy 176th Session. He has written numerous articles on Leadership and Policing for various publications. He has extensive media experience and has been a guest on ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s Today Show, Dateline NBC, CNN, and Larry King Live. He is an avid saltwater fisherman. http://www.kellerconsultants.com.





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