US police chiefs visit Israel to learn counter-terrorism techniques

Among the delegation were chiefs of the Orlando, Florida and San Bernadino, California, police departments, who recently witnessed unprecedented terrorist attacks in their cities.

Scene of terror attack in Jerusalem's Damascus Gate (photo credit: REUTERS)
Scene of terror attack in Jerusalem's Damascus Gate
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Citing Israel’s preeminence in counter-terrorism operations, US police chiefs are visiting the country as part of an ADL delegation to learn advanced training techniques from Israel Police. Among the delegation are chiefs of the Orlando, Florida and San Bernadino, California, police departments, who recently witnessed unprecedented terrorist attacks in their cities.
Oren Segal, director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, said approximately a dozen senior law enforcement officers from across the US are participating in the National Counter- Terrorism Seminar, an annual one-week event which the organization hosts.
“We bring top-level law enforcement from the States to Israel to learn about civil society here, the role that law enforcement plays in terms of protecting communities with regard to terrorism, and to provide a better sense to American law enforcement about Israel,” Segal said on Tuesday.
The seminar was created to show that “people here are like people everywhere,” Segal said, noting that the portrayal of Israel in the news is overwhelmingly negative and frequently focuses on conflict and terrorist attacks.
“Like many people in the States, law enforcement officials who have not visited have a perception of Israel that they get from the media,” he said. “To actually bring people here to experience the day-to-day and learn from academics and Israeli police officials... makes the State of Israel a little more real to them, and they get a better sense of what life is really like here.”
THE ADL delegation of senior US law enforcement officials poses with Israel Police officers in Jerusalem.
THE ADL delegation of senior US law enforcement officials poses with Israel Police officers in Jerusalem.
Equally important, Segal said, is that “US law enforcement officials can learn some lessons about what it’s like to be in law enforcement here in Israel, and the unique threats and unique experience” that it entails.
Orlando Police Chief John Mina – who led the investigation into the largest mass shooting in modern US history last June, in which 49 people were killed at a gay night club – said the massacre committed by a lone gunman profoundly scarred the city.
“The attack was devastating,” Mina said, “and we were devastated. But we knew we had to come together as a community, and we’re going through that process now.”
Mina, who arrived on Sunday with the other US participants, said he felt compelled to join the delegation when he was invited following the attack.
“After what happened, it made me want to come to Israel even more, just to learn more from the Israeli Police to see how they deal with terrorism, how they respond to it, and see what their training is like,” he said.
The delegation will attend several seminars daily as well as training exercises.
During one lecture, Mina, whose Lebanese father was born in Haifa, said he was impressed with how Israeli Police utilize heavily-armed pairs of officers on motorcycles to deal rapidly with potential threats.
“We’re not used to that in the United States, so it was kind of interesting to see,” he said.
“Also [Police spokesman] Micky Rosenfeld gave an excellent presentation on dealing with terrorism and the importance of getting information out quickly, which we think is very important as well in the US.”
Asked his opinion of Israeli counter-terrorism, Mina said it serves as a model for US law enforcement.
“We have great respect for the way things are done over here by the Israeli police,” he said. “Unfortunately, it seems like there are so many attacks that they have a clear sense of what they’re dealing with. We have great respect for how they approach terrorism, and how they train and respond to it.”
Mina also cited the careful monitoring of social media by Israeli Police as “extremely important” in preventing attacks.
“People in the States are using social media and getting this idea in their heads to carry out their own attacks,” he said.
“That is one of our greatest threats right now, and Israel is excellent at dealing with that.
“I like the way the Israeli Police pretty much go right after the threat, and in the US we are heading in the same direction, especially with our situation. Also, over here they don’t negotiate [with terrorists], and I think that’s the way to go.”
After Mina met with the survivor of a terrorist attack, he said the average Israeli citizen’s preparedness and response to terrorism is noteworthy.
In applying lessons he learned from the Orlando massacre, Mina stressed the importance of dealing effectively with a barricaded active shooter holding multiple hostages.
“It was a very unique situation, because in the US shootings typically end in a few seconds, and the [suspect] kills himself,” he said.
“For us, this went from an active-shooter situation to a barricaded gunman holding hostages to a terrorist situation within the first hour. From my perspective, I think our police response was good and we saved many, many people from inside the Pulse Night Club. But there will always be situations where, as we compile more information, we will certainly share it [with the public].”
While Mina stopped short of deeming the violence in the US a turning point, he emphasized that attacks there required police and citizens to become “super vigilant.”
“It is different times,” he conceded.
“People need to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Officers in uniform are being targeted as well. I believe that it starts over here [in the Middle East] and kind of carries over to the United States.”
John McMahon, sheriff of San Bernardino County, California, echoed Mina’s sentiments.
McMahon oversaw a December terrorist attack in which a married Arab couple killed 14 people and wounded 22, before being shot dead by police.
“It was a tragic event, and not only was it a terrorist attack... it included county employees in a building used by multiple groups, including us,” he said. “That we never expected. I guess we expect the unexpected, because you never know where they are going to occur.”
McMahon, who has previously worked with the ADL at the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles, said he was offered to attend the seminar previously, but only decided to join this year.
“The ADL does an incredible job educating law enforcement officials on terrorism, hate, and a variety of other things,” he said.
“To come over and interact with the Israeli National Police to see how they deal with the multiple cultures, the extremism, and terrorism, is an opportunity of a lifetime for us.”
Adding that terrorist attacks in the US are becoming increasingly prevalent, McMahon said American law enforcement is entering a world which Israel knows well.
“We’re very good with intelligence and the things that we’re used to,” he said, “This is a new world for us, and so we can learn a lot from the Israel Police, and the folks in Israel, because this is something they’ve been dealing with for a number of years, and they have a lot of experience to share.”
Indeed, Police spokesman Rosenfeld, who is helping host the delegation, said that as more brazen terrorist attacks unfold across the globe, international law enforcement officials increasingly seek Israel’s advice on how to deal with the growing epidemic.
“As part of ongoing coordination and sharing of intelligence, knowledge and experience in the field of terrorism, the Israel Police will continue to work with law enforcement officials throughout the world,” Rosenfeld said