While not unexpected, upon hearing of the new iWATCH program, the ACLU and other self proclaimed law enforcement watch dog groups immediately called for a suspension and review of the program. Their concerns were proper safeguards are not in place to ensure that people would not be negatively affected by potentially overzealous members of law enforcement acting upon anonymous tips from the public regarding possible terrorist activities.
Having personally been involved in the development of one of these public outreach programs, I can tell you with 100% certainty that a major concern of law enforcement is that citizens may not watch for suspicious actions of individuals that programs like iWATCH teach, but rather let their predisposed notions of what a terrorist should look like guide them. Profiling people versus actions could play right into the hands of terrorist as they work to recruit average looking American citizens to carry out their plots hoping they will not attract suspicion. Keeping that in mind, one can see how these agency programs are actually working to achieve the goal of not profiling people for which watch dog groups are accusing them of potentially doing.
While the LAPD's iWATCH program is new, others are not. New York States MTA has had in place its "See Something, Say Something" campaign since 2003 which also encourages the public to do exactly as the slogan says: "If you see something suspicious, tell someone in a position of authority so they can investigate it" and provides a list and general photos of suspicious activities and things to be aware of. Denver, Colorado recently released a PSA featuring former Bronco's quarterback, John Elway, which also hopes to help educate the public about what is considered suspicious activity and what to do. For example, suicide bombers, as the name implies, wear a bomb strapped to their bodies and to be successful they must hide the bomb to get to their target location. In order to do that, they would typically wear a large, bulky jacket or outer clothing to cover the bomb. If it's 95 degrees with 90% humidity in the middle of summer in New York and someone is walking around the subway station dressed like this, probably sweating, with a determined or angered look on their face, no one should feel guilty or silly for alerting the police to suspicious behavior.
Sadly some watch dog groups have implied that that anyone who exhibits this behavior and is approached by the police, only to be found okay, is being harassed with their civil rights potentially violated. I and many others would argue that our right to stay alive and not be blown apart by a bomb would be violated if the police are prevented from doing their job, based on reasonable and probable cause, to make contact with individuals who most would agree display suspicious behavior in today's society.
I think it would be helpful for some of these law enforcement watch dog groups to take a seat at a major city's dispatch center some day and listen in to how many crazy calls are received where a patrol car is not dispatched because the trained, professional dispatchers know what deserves a response and what does not. The same goes for the dedicated anti-terrorism professionals who review the various incoming tips about potential terrorist threats. They know the questions to ask and how to separate the substantial tips from generic fear of certain individuals for whom the caller may have a bias towards. Not giving our local, state and federal authorities the chance to prove these programs will work is like saying you're guilty of prejudice before any proof is offered. It's kind of like saying you're guilty until proven innocent; a little backwards and in violation of our basic civil rights if you ask me.
It's time for the ACLU and others to give law enforcement the credit we deserve.
Clearly groups such as the ACLU are passionate about their work and believe in their mission and goal of helping to protect all American's civil rights. No one can argue that they have done some good work in the past and I'm sure they love our country just as much as we all do. However, 9/11 has changed the way we live and there is no going back. No one would argue that we must continue to respect and enforce the rights of everyone and not throw away certain rights because of 9/11 however at some point logic must prevail.