Reflections: See something, say something

See something, say something
By William L. Bulla
Weekly Contributing Writer

On a recent visit to Washington, DC, my son, daughter-in-law and I stopped at a fast food restaurant for some breakfast. Two men speaking in broken English shared a table next to us. Shortly after we sat down to eat, one of the men left. Several minutes later the second man picked up his tray and walked to dump it in a trash bin. I noticed he did not return to the table, even though he had left a bag on a seat at his table. I spoke about the unattended bag; my son and daughter-in law, both said, "See something, say something", almost simultaneously. They live in New York, where this saying is well known. Immediately, my son contacted the restaurant manager, and the bag was removed.
In July 2010, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), at Secretary Janet Napolitano's direction, launched a national "If You See Something, Say Something(tm)" public awareness campaign. It was a simple and effective program to raise public awareness of indicators of terrorism and violent crime, and to emphasize the importance of reporting suspicious activity to the proper state and local law enforcement authorities. The campaign was originally developed by New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) back in 2002 with the plan to get people to report "things". What things? Well, anything out of the ordinary. One example of this was the attempted Times Square bombing, which was discovered by a New York City street vendor.
The "See Something, Say Something" campaign has the potential for being a tremendous public awareness tool and a way to integrate everyday observers...that is, the public. Unfortunately, some of our citizens are reluctant to share their suspicions for fear of being sued. Citizens who share information to stop a possible terrorist attack, or other crimes should be praised, not sued.
The House Judiciary Committee, on July 20, 2011, approved legislation to protect citizens who report suspicious activity indicating possible terror activity. The See Something, Say Something Act (H.R. 963) expands protections against lawsuits for individuals who report suspicious terrorist-related activity and for law enforcement officers who act on these tips in good faith. The Committee passed the bill by a voice vote.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), who sponsored H.R. 963, praised the Committee's vote saying, "Time and again the brave actions of alert citizens have helped to thwart terror plots and save lives. It is not enough for intelligence officials and investigators to combat the terror threat alone. We need the help of alert citizens who see something suspicious and say something to authorities."
About twenty minutes after the restaurant manager picked up the bag, the man I had seen earlier came back into the restaurant. He was very upset because the bag was not where he had left it. My son calmed him down and took him to the manager where he retrieved the bag. He was very grateful. He thanked us all, saying that all of his "documentation" proving his identity was in that bag. In this situation, "See Something, Say Something" provided help to an individual, rather than alert us of a terrorist threat.
On August 2, 2011, more than 230 Wal-Mart stores nationwide launched the "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign, with a total of 588 Wal-Mart stores in 27 states joining in the coming weeks. A short video message will play at select checkout locations to remind shoppers to contact local law enforcement to report suspicious activity.

William L. Bulla is a freelance writer residing in Washington County.