Monday, April 07, 2008

All Prevention is Local ... and Small

So much of the time, prevention is mundane, ordinary stuff on the local - and even personal - level. Secure your belongings. Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to people acting strangely.

But when people collaborate on these sorts of efforts, the benefits multiply:

[O]ver the past few years, the Wilmington Boat Owners Association (WBOA) has successfully launched a formalized Marina Watch program at seven of the 14 marinas at the Port of Los Angeles.

Each month, a Port Police community officer attends the association’s monthly meeting, where boaters can discuss issues or concerns at local marinas.

It takes local knowledge to police a port,” explained Sgt. Kevin McCloskey of the Los Angeles Port Police. “There are a lot of intricacies and unique things about a port region — particularly one with blended uses.”

If one marina reports a theft or suspicious persons or activities in or around the marina, officers will walk the docks at night to help resolve the situation, explained Donna Ethington, president of the WBOA.

The boating community has a much better relationship with the Port Police than in the past,” she explained. “They’re out in our community, they understand the issues and they can go straight to the decision makers and resolve them. It’s a great partnership.”

While drug deals, auto thefts, boat break-ins, stolen dinghies and outboard engines, and dock box theft were once regular occurrences in Port of Los Angeles-area marinas, there is now a near zero incident rate, Ethington said.
Note how the flow of information is two-way. Police share information with marina tenants and vice versa:
To alert marina tenants to unusual occurrences, Port Police community relations officers send e-mails to WBOA members and other local boat owners. “Being (that each marina is) a tight-knit community, it is important for our officers to know the people in various locations in the port, and have this free flow of communication,” explained Capt. Ralph Tracy of the Port Police. “If anything appears to be usual or out of place, they don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and give us a call.”
And once the lines of communications are established, it's relatively easy to add dimensions to the relationship. For example, some marinas are adopting an all-hazards approach to preparedness:
At Ventura West Marina, dock captains have been established, training sessions have been held and many boaters are signed up for May CERT training. Each dock captain serves as a point of contact, distributes emergency preparedness information and assesses capabilities among tenants.

We are realizing that in cases of a large emergency, such as a tsunami or fire, most of our emergency response teams are probably not going to respond to us right away -- so, we have to be capable of surviving on our own for a while,” said Chuck Ormson of Ventura West Marina.
It may seem quaint or old-fashioned to suggest that small, local efforts such as this can make a real difference to homeland security. After all, marina tenants are much more likely to spot vandals than terrorists.

But if you were a criminal or aspiring terrorist, which would present a more challenging target: a port with an active network of concerned marina tenants is going to be a harder target than a port without such a network? Where would you try to pull something?

That's the key distinction. An observant local citizenry with trusting connections to law enforcement is a great prevention tool. In fact, one danger for such a program might be that it can work too well:
Nicole Avalos, a Neighborhood Watch coordinator for the Port of Long Beach, is currently trying to re-establish a Marina Watch program that was discontinued five years ago. “It just came to an end,” she said.

Once the incidents that many residents had complained about were resolved, locals became less involved in the program, she said. “We want to change that and be more proactive, and keep people involved long-term,” she said.

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