On January 9, 2019

Woodstock police chief takes lessons from Israel

By Curt Peterson

After a 10-day trip to Israel, Woodstock Police Chief Robbie Blish said he noticed one big difference between Israel and the U.S.: Israels’s “willingness to spend the extra money needed to have desired security.”

In Israeli shopping malls, he said, 43 percent of the complex’s budget is dedicated to security – in the U.S. that percentage ranges from 1 to 3 percent.

Israeli schools are surrounded by permanent fencing with one point of ingress and egress protected by armed guards. At the building’s entrance there are more armed guards, and inside additional armed security personnel roam the hallways. Cameras and alarms are everywhere.

Blish flew to Israel Dec. 2-12 with 14 other officers for training titled “New England Leadership Seminar in Israel: Resilience and Counterterrorism.” Seminars focused on Israel national police strategies “to deter and disrupt terrorist attacks and strengthen community resilience.”

Since 2002, the program has invited law enforcement personnel from around the U.S. Training is sponsored, organized and funded by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, whose mission, according to its website, is “to stop defamation of Jewish people, [and] secure justice and fair treatment for all.”

Blish admires Israel’s multi-layered approach to providing school and community security and feels some of their strategies can be applied in Woodstock, though he said funding is difficult.

He has been discussing security at the schools with district officials since his return from training. Blish said he wants to have a school resource officer at all of the Windsor Central District school campuses.

The officer would be armed, uniformed and trained, but he admits the necessary financial resources may not be available.

Of course, only the Woodstock schools are within Blish’s department’s jurisdiction, so who would be providing security at the remote campuses is up in the air.

Tom Beck, president of the Shir Shalom Synagogue in Woodstock, told The Mountain Times the temple has been in discussions since the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, but they have made no plans regarding increased security and haven’t met with Chief Blish since his return from Israel.

“We may be doing some monitoring,” he said, “but there will probably be reluctance about having armed guards.”

Woodstock had a population of 2,932 in 2017 and no history of terrorist attacks, no perceived enemies at its borders.

“We are definitely fortunate to live in such a safe state and town,” Blish said. “And in terms of targets for terrorism, we’re probably not high on the list, if at all. That said, we do have some large events that attract a good deal of people, the Covered Bridges Half Marathon and the Wassail Parade to name a couple, and celebrity guests who may stay at the Woodstock Inn, so we are not without events that might attract a terrorist attack and could benefit from layered security”.

Not all invitees accept the ADL’s invitation to study counterterrorism in Israel.

The Vermont State Police, for example, is one of many law enforcement agencies that turned down the opportunity. Most cite perceived militarization of the Israel National Police as something to which they do not aspire.

“The security in Israel was not overwhelming,” Blish said. “I felt safe, I knew [the Israel National Police] were back there, but it wasn’t an ‘in your face’ type of security presence.”

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