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Editor's notes

No longer the standard in municipal budgets: "Squeeze everything else but police and fire"

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

For every municipal story I've written in the last year, I've heard the same thing, over and over: Budgets are being slashed. And it's only getting worse. But those same stories involve municipal security folks spending money on security, right? It's true, there are plenty of case studies out there about the deployment of wireless video surveillance systems or an improvement to communication networks, but many of those projects are funded through federal grants. The government has spent money on security since 9/11, but will that money start to dry up soon?

Yesterday, I spoke with the panelists for an upcoming presentation at TechSec Solutions called "Look Ma, No Wires." This presentation will focus on wireless technology and address issues including when to implement a wireless solution and what type of solution works best for certain deployments. But something that caught my ear as I was listening to Ralph Bell from Motorola was in regards to the work they do with municipalities. Basically, he reiterated that municipalities often have the money needed for an initial deployment, but don't have the financial resources or in-house expertise to maintain the infrastructure or pay for upgrades to the system. It's my understanding municipalities often receive federal grants, which are often designated for initial deployments, but rarely can be used for maintenance or repairs and the municipality must pay for that from its own funds.

And budget woes aren't going away any time soon. I just read an interesting Q&A article with the mayor of Newark, N.J., Cory Booker, about his approach to budgeting. Here's the link from the Huffington Post. Like many elected officials, he understood the importance of police, fire and other public safety agencies. As a matter of fact, here's his original approach to budget cutting:

"Squeeze everything else but police and fire."

But, according to the article, last year, the city laid off 164 officers, about 13 percent of the force. The reporter asked how it came to that. Here's his answer:

Look, budgets across the country -- 60 percent of American cities have had reductions in their forces of public safety. And, so, this is not something that's unique to Newark...So, we have dramatic losses in revenue. And public safety, frankly -- police and fire -- make up the significant majority of our budget. We were squeezing and starving every other area of our city. Furloughing employees, cutting staff. But it came to a point where we couldn't cut enough to make up for the tremendous budgetary shortfall.

He goes on to address having to put older police officers back out on the streets in order to maintain the same police presence before the cuts, but also notes that such budgetary restrictions have impacted the reduction in crime in the city. Of course, he also spins it as actually putting more experienced officers back out on city streets - he's a politician after all.

What do you think? How worried are you about the correlation between budgetary cuts and public safety? Are we over the worst of it or is the worst yet to come?

Napolitano gives first State of Homeland Security address

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

This afternoon, Secretary Napolitano started a new tradition for the Department of Homeland Security. Just days after President Obama gave the annual State of the Union address, Napolitano decided to specifically address the nation's security position. While DHS remains a nascent agency, it has obviously garnered a lot of attention (and funding) since its inception and I think it's only appropriate for the public to hear about its progress and future goals.

The theme of the speech was this continued effort of "shared responsibility." DHS has really been advocating the various roles that everyone, from law enforcement to the public, shares the collective responsibility of securing the homeland.

In case you forgot: "Homeland security starts with hometown security."

She emphasized that DHS is working with other agencies to ensure that intelligence collected makes its way to the appropriate group of people, whether that be local law enforcement or members of the private sector.

Napolitano made a few big announcements including the formal end to the color-coded threat advisory system. "In its place, we will implement a new system built on a simple and clear premise: When a threat develops that impacts you, the public, we will tell you. We will provide you with whatever information we can so know how protect yourself, your families and your communities," she said. This new National Terrorism Advisory System "means the days are numbered for automated recordings at airports about the color code system." Here's the link to the official DHS announcement.

She also highlighted four areas that DHS will focus on in the coming year:

1. Counter-terrorism efforts. "We’ve worked hard to strengthen and build information-sharing architecture by increasing the capacity of our state's fusion centers and analytic centers of excellence," she said. She also discussed the department's effort to strengthen the global supply chain.

2. Border security and immigration enforcement. She discussed the improvements the government is making to increase technology and personnel to secure our borders. (No mention of the recent announcement to end the SBInet program, though.)

3. Cybersecurity. She discussed continuing to make the infrastructure more resilient to attacks.

4. Improving national preparedness. She touched on the President's announcement to designate the D Block spectrum for public safety communication and further improving technology and interoperability (Check out a recent SDN article on the topic based on a speech by the former director of FEMA.). She also announced that FEMA will run the largest exercise to date based on a massive earthquake scenario.

Overall, I wouldn't say there was anything particularly groundbreaking in this speech, but rather Napolitano's continued effort to encourage everyone to play their part and take national security seriously.

Vigilance wins again in MLK Day bomb discovery

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A bomb that was found along the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Spokane, Wash. has been credited to the vigilance and awareness of the public:

The suspicious backpack was spotted by three city employees about an hour before the parade was to start. They looked inside, saw wires and immediately alerted law enforcement.

Okay, well technically the folks who found it were employed by the city, but their awareness coupled with immediate action probably saved a lot of lives.

According to an article on Huffington Post, law enforcement officials are calling it an act of domestic terrorism designed to advance a political or social agenda and are offering a $20,000 reward for information about the device.

Perhaps people are on higher alert in Washington than in other regions of the country: The Spokane region and adjacent northern Idaho have had numerous incidents of anti-government and white supremacist activity during the past three decades. I was not aware Washington State was a hotbed for the KKK. Interesting.

Regardless, it's very heartening to write about such incidents (opposed to, say, the Arizona shooting) and I think a story like this is testament to the continued vigilance of the public in reporting suspicious activity.

The role of campus security in Loughner case. Should they have done more?

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Friday, January 14, 2011

I read this really interesting story on Salon.com about Jared Loughner's bizarre behavior and the deterioration of his mental health based on police reports from the community college he attended.

The school, Pima Community College, released 51 pages of police reports this week about Loughner's last school year, which ended in September when he was judged mentally unhinged and suspended from the school.

The school reports provide detailed accounts of Loughner's troubles at the college, and he is depicted at times as "creepy," "very hostile" and "having difficulty understanding what he had done wrong in the classroom."

School officials have not said if the reports were shared with any authorities beyond campus.

From a security perspective, this is the part that bothers me the most. Nearly every story I write about campus security, security directors almost always make mention of the importance of having a close working relationship with law enforcement. Security departments know their resources are limited, they're often unarmed and just don't have the manpower to deal with certain situations.

In all, Loughner had five run-ins with campus police, but apparently police were never called in. For the most part, it sounds like the school handled this situation fairly well. We all know that it's not easy to kick people out, especially if there's not one major incident (like cheating or physical violence). Often there needs to be a number of small documented incidents that lead to expulsion or suspension. However, in a case like this where several teachers and students reported incidents that they said had the potential to escalate to violence, I would think law enforcement would be immediately notified. Granted, there's probably not a whole lot more police could have done in this situation, but making them aware of a troubled student should be an integral part of a campus security program.

Congress gets a security review. Are more guns the answer?

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

When I wrote a story this week about the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during a political event, one thing that stood out was how often security takes a backseat:

“If there’s any weaknesses when these things are planned, it’s often the security aspect that’s overlooked,” said James McGinty, vice president of training and safety for Covenant Security Services. “Security has to become a big part of the plan.”

Currently, members of Congress are being briefed about how to improve security measures to protect themselves. For example, Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. is requesting a 10 percent increase in member budgets for security measures because "members should have the resources and the latitude to take the appropriate security measures in order to protect themselves and their staffs," according to this article in the Washington Times. Some of those increased security measures could include hiring security personnel for public events, installing surveillance cameras at district offices and improving locks and entry systems in district offices, he said.

Other Congress members have suggested taking security into their own hands and carrying firearms when they attend such public events. However, this morning I watched an interview with Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer who emphasized that lawmakers shouldn't go to such lengths and should refrain from carrying weapons.

I don't necessarily think more guns are the answer to stopping such senseless violence, however, I can't help but argue that if someone had been carrying a gun during the event in Arizona, there would likely be less bodies to bury.

Is university's gun policy illegal?

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Guns, guns, guns. Everybody gets so up in arms over guns (haha- you missed my humor, I just know it). I recently read this story about two security officers who were placed on administrative leave after they forwarded an internal memo from the University of Utah regarding its policy on the open carrying of firearms on campus.

But lawmakers and gun advocates are disputing the university's policy, saying it's illegal and goes against the states gun laws.

“They’re saying we don’t want [visible guns] on campus, but state law is they have to accept it because they’re a state university,” Zachary Wellman, a security guard at University Hospital, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It is a huge issue because they’re circumventing the Utah law and the university president is now making the law, which they have no power to do.”

However, the university's president claims that “having weapons in plain sight on this campus creates a fearful and intimidating campus environment” and goes against the university's educational mission.

According to the article, the guidelines instruct security officers to arrest anyone openly carrying a firearm if they don’t have a concealed-weapons permit and for those who do have a permit, officers are to instruct them to conceal the weapon or leave campus.

However, gun advocates say that a concealed-weapons permit allows individuals to conceal their weapons but doesn’t require that they be hidden and the university can't go against from that legislation.

What do you think?

What you were reading: Top 10 blogs of 2010

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Monday, December 27, 2010

The end of the year is a good time to step back and review what made the news this year. I wrote a series of articles for last week’s Newswire that focused on some of the biggest issues of the year. You can check out the Top 10 stories here. I also broke it down into sectors and wrote a small synopsis and listed the Top 5 stories for each sector. Check out what was hot in educational security, retail security/loss prevention, aviation security, and municipal security/port security/public transportation.

So to go along with that theme, I decided to post the Top 10 blogs from this year. Below is a list that I think you’ll find quite interesting:

1. Good to great: How to get three times the productivity from your security personnel

2. ASIS International undergoes layoffs, cites economy

3. Looking for a career after law enforcement? Perhaps you should consider this occupation

4. List of most dangerous colleges and universities causes quite a stir

5. Police chief moonlights as casino security director. Is this a conflict of interest?

6. Stadium decides Tasers ‘aren’t appropriate’ after fan incident

7. Former Chicago aviation chief says 15,000 badges missing

8. Has the TSA gone too far with frisks?

9. The tragic state of loss prevention

10. Hotel security system fails, alarm co. sued, but how much blame should security dept. have?

It's hard to rob a casino, right? Motorcycle thief hits two in one week

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

In the security world, casinos are often thought to have top-of-the-line security toys, I mean, technology. And for good reason: They have a lot of money and valuable assets to protect. But, of course, it's no easy task.

Not long ago we published this story about two South Dakota casinos using HDCCTV to protect their facilities. But don't let the image of big money flowing through these places fool you. Casinos are also facing budget cuts like most other organizations. We wrote this story in September about the St. Croix Casino cutting the security budget in half during the construction of the casino.

Well, beware. I just read this story about the Bellagio in Las Vegas getting robbed last week by a man on a motorcycle:

Police say a man wearing a jumpsuit and a motorcycle helmet with white stripes walked into the casino with a gun, robbed a craps table then sped away on a motorcycle in the dead of night.

The thief is reported to have taken chips ranging in value from $100 to $25,000. The police are saying the robbery happened "about as quick as you can do it." Frankly, I don't find that very comforting and I'm sure the security folks at the casino don't either. There's no way someone should be able to walk into a casino, wave a gun, steal chips and speed off. I don't care if it's 4 a.m. or not. Of course, casino folks are saying that the guy hasn't stolen any money until he cashes in the chips and, obviously, they're on the lookout for someone trying to redeem large denomination chips.

Of course, there is video of the incident, but it doesn't seem like it's going to be much help: Police later released an 11-second video showing a man running through a casino entry lobby with a gun in his right hand.

And the craziest part is that it appears that this guy is on a roll. The week before someone on a motorcycle also robbed the Las Vegas Suncoast Hotel & Casino, speeding away with more than $20,000 from a poker room cashier.

Perhaps I've seen Oceans Eleven one too many times, but I know it's suppose to be harder than that.

Taking out the trash: A creative approach to neighborhood watch

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

There's been a big push by the Department of Homeland Security to promote the "See Something, Say Something" campaign to encourage the public to be vigilant about suspicious behavior and report concerns to police. It's kinda like a nationwide Neighborhood Watch Program.

Well, I just read this story about a souped-up version of Neighborhood Watch and it's not just the nosy old lady who's keeping an eye out, now it's the garbage man (I'm sorry, waste management professional) who's into your business. But in a good way:

Because of their intimate knowledge of the communities in which they work, going forward Waste Management drivers in Collier County are going to be acting as an additional set of eyes and ears for local law enforcement. It’s all part of a new partnership with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and an ongoing corporate program called Waste Watch.

Frankly, I think this is a brilliant initiative and here's why:

“These drivers, they go through the neighborhoods every day,” said Joe Vidovich, director of corporate security for Waste Management. “They’re familiar with the activity. They know what fits and doesn’t fit. They know what’s out of place. We tell them to stay alert to those things that seem out of place.”

The company has started training about 100 of its drivers in this area of Florida to go through the Waste Watch program to look out for things like graffiti, domestic violence, activity in abandoned homes, vehicles that haven’t moved for days, people peeking in windows, and wandering elderly people.

But apparently this isn't new. According to the article, Waste Management has been rolling out this program for four years now. Chances are the garbage man knows a lot more about you than just what you throw away. Kudos Waste Management.

Man implants camera on head to address issues of privacy

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Privacy issues are nothing new in the security industry. There will always be people who come out with the whole "Big Brother" argument in an effort to stifle surveillance efforts. And, sometimes security loses. Remember this story about a school in Sutter, Calif. that had to rip out a smart card system it had put in to streamline attendance-taking because it failed to inform students and parents about the use of the tracking technology? The American Civil Liberties Union got involved, claiming the technology threatened students’ privacy and eventually the school removed the system. Talk about a poor investment.

Then there was this story about an effort in Lancaster, Pa. to install a city-wide surveillance system. Citizens were outraged (well at least the outraged ones were vocal, which is often the case). A lot of those issued stemmed from the fact that it was a private company monitoring the cameras, not the police, but the city had to make adjustments to what the cameras could view because of privacy concerns.

Privacy issues ain't going away, that's the point.

But, I thought some of you might find this story interesting and entertaining ... and strange. A professor at NYU had a video camera surgically implanted in (or on, it's unclear) his head for an art project.

Addressing the ubiquity of cameras in our lives, he seeks to explore the state of privacy (or lack thereof) in our society, according to this article.

The best part is that he will be required to to wear a lens cap when he's on campus, to protect his students' privacy. He'll record his daily routine for a year. Yep, a whole year.

And, in a similar vein, I also recently read this story about how the FBI issued an alert about a Barbie doll that has a video camera installed in it (as a necklace, not on her head - jeez, Barbie is way classier than that college professor art guy). Anyway, the FBI is more worried about Mattel's "Barbie Video Girl" being used for child pornography than violating privacy issues, but I'm surprised no one's made the privacy argument yet. I guess if you buy such a thing for your daughter, you actually want her to go around video taping things in your home, right? I can't wait for some of those videos to make their way on YouTube. Mom and Dad may quickly regret that Christmas gift.

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