On November 28, 2016 at 9:52 a.m. Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a Somali-born Ohio State Student, drove his Honda into a crowd of pedestrians on the Columbus, OH campus; then emerged from the car and began slashing people with a knife.
Within moments, the assailant was shot and killed by Ohio State University police Officer Alan Horujko. Over the following hour; campus police, Columbus Police and Franklin County sheriff’s deputies searched the university campus for possible secondary attackers.
While the rapid, efficient response of police and emergency medical personnel responding to the attack should be heralded, those of us in the homeland security community consider any attack successfully carried out by an assailant to be a failure in prevention.
Security in and of itself has a primary objective of preventing incidents in all of its disciplines. Whether that means preventing or mitigating a terrorist attack or preventing theft for stores, it is imperative on those in charge of security to stress the importance of utilizing intelligence analysis to stay ahead of the next threat.
In the case of Ohio State, the weaponization of a vehicle to attack pedestrians naturally is a reminder of the massive terrorist attack in Nice, France, last summer in which a terrorist used a truck to run over more than 80 victims.
In 1997, I was assigned to the New York Terrorist Trials Operations Command as a young officer with the Federal Protective Service (FPS). This assignment providing heightened protective services around the slew of terrorist trials in New York following the 1993 World Trade Center bombings challenged my traditional view of law enforcement.
Instead of responding to violations and enforcing laws, we were sworn law enforcement officers deployed strategically to try and prevent possible terrorist attacks. Furthermore, in my post-FPS law enforcement career, I took the study of threat-based, intelligence-led policing to heart; and have applied it since.
The problem with American culture, however, is that we tend to try and “move on” when something terrible happens, failing to learn from what happened in a practical manner. Our collective upbringing on television and film mysteries has led us to ask “why” before “how.”
One of the first things I learned after my leaving FPS to become a busy DC Metropolitan Police Officer was that finding out “why” is a luxury to a law enforcement officer. People commit crimes for a variety of reasons, many of them irrational. Finding out who, what, when, where and how are essential to solving and possibly preventing crimes.
So when the media spends valuable page space or airtime scrutinizing why Abdul Razak Ali Artan carried out his vicious attack and not asking what local campuses, law enforcement agencies, and property managers are doing to increase security; we’re just opening ourselves up to further attacks.
When Israeli Rabbi and political figure Meir Kahane was assassinated November 5, 1990; law enforcement [who lacked resources in translating Arabic] failed to make the terrorist connection between assassin El Sayyid Nosair and Sheik Omar Abdul-Rahman.
Such a connection may have prevented the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing and possibly, preventing the prison-cell fatwa that led to the 9/11 attacks.
After Adam Lanza’s deadly 2012 school-shooting rampage in Sandy Hook, Connecticut; the state passed sweeping new gun laws, but still has no set security standard for campus security. Therefore, an illegally-obtained weapon still has the capability of carrying out a school shooting.
Immediately after the Sandy Hook shooting, National Rifle Association Vice President Wayne LaPierre called for armed security in schools to prevent, respond to and mitigate school attacks. He was widely rebuked by the media, politicians, and the education community. Ignoring LaPierre’s call, there still has been no uniform response to school security in America. As a result, since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, there have been 186 shootings on school campuses in the U.S., according to the Los Angeles Times.
Just this month, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill almost mirroring LaPierre’s call for school security; in where armed, retired law enforcement officers will be trained to patrol school campuses in the Garden State. Imagine if America would have reacted to the content of the NRA’s 2012 message regarding school security instead of reacting to the polarizing speaker conveying it. Could some of those 186 shootings since 2012 have been prevented?
Terrorism and incidents of mass violence are shocking and nobody enjoys thinking about them. Politicizing them in where our lawmakers and media tries to spin these incidents into gun control arguments or warnings about religious tolerance is a disservice to the memories of the victims of these attacks.
Why? Because doing so fails to better prepare us to respond to, or prevent future attacks. After the 7/7 attacks in London, have we significantly improved security on bus and rail transportation? In response to the Bastille Day attack, have we given thought to pedestrian barriers to traffic in areas of dense foot traffic?
It is imperative that our security professionals take a pragmatic view of learning from past incidents to try and prevent future ones. That means we all have to start supporting the concepts of risk-based threat assessment, force protection and crime prevention through environmental design; and make significant investment in real security…not just the appearance thereof.
A. Benjamin Mannes is a national subject matter expert in public safety and regular contributor to The Hill. He serves as a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Board at St.John’s University and the Peirce College Criminal Justice Studies Advisory Board in Philadelphia and is a Governor on the Executive Board of InfraGard, the FBI-coordinated public-private partnership for critical infrastructure protection. Follow him on Twitter: @PublicSafetySME
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