Parking Officers Learn to Fight Terrorism

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“USE mother wit,” Philadelphia Parking Authority Executive Director Clarena Tolson tells her officers, to keep an eye out for potential terrorist activity while they patrol the city’s streets.

BY TONY WEST
“You are part of the bigger picture,” Philadelphia Parking Authority Executive Director Clarena Tolson told a roomful of her officers on June 1, as they prepared to learn how to combat terrorism.

During that day, all 200 PPA officers were given a briefing by Philadelphia Police Department counterterrorism Detective Joseph Rovnan. He has been in this field since 9/11. He stated the observations of parking enforcement officers are crucial to a coordinated terror-alert system.

Parking officers spend their days patrolling streets. Their eyes are trained to notice vehicles; and many terrorist attacks use vehicles as part of the delivery system, if not as weapons themselves. The officers work a regular beat, becoming familiar with its rhythms. They are in a good position to notice unusual vehicles that don’t fit in with a block’s routine.

POLICE Detective Joseph Rovnan, a counterterrorism expert, gives PPA officers a briefing on abnormal backpack behavior on city streets.

Suppose they spot a vehicle with covered tags. Suppose they notice a van loitering in an unusual location near a busy public space. They may see a person place a backpack on a sidewalk and start walking away from it. They may observe a fuel truck parked in an area where no fuel deliveries normally occur – the makings of a potential explosion.

And parking enforcement officers carry radios and cellphones. They are well equipped to be eyes and ears on the street.

Tolson commended her officers’ judgement and encouraged them to use it. She told them to trust their suspicious instincts and common sense, their “mother wit.”

Philadelphia has so far been spared the street attacks that horrified the world recently in England, as well as in American cities like New York and Boston a few years back. But Rovnan pointed out that Philadelphia has been hosting bigger events of late, the sort that draw international attention – tempting terrorists with maximum media impact if they should launch an attack. “Realistically, we’re waiting for something to happen,” he commented.

Two hundred experienced recruits from PPA are welcome additions to Rovnan’s mission.

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