SAN ANTONIO – You’ve heard it over and over again for a decade: see something, say something.
The campaign launched by Homeland Security in July 2010 has morphed into a mantra that extends beyond one used to combat terrorism.
Today, its a prevention tool for any kind of violence, especially the threats that exist within our own communities.
In San Antonio, the Fusion Center is a hub where such threats are assessed and potentially acted upon.
“It’s really hard to understand from the inside looking out. It’s kind of hard to explain,” said SAPD Sgt. Tina Baron.
She describes the Southwest Texas Fusion Center as a multi-agency, multi-disciplinary hub for information sharing.
That means one team of people from a lot of different agencies in one room with one goal: keeping a giant eye out so they’re ready to respond when needed.
“If you look at a lot of after-action for large scale events or mass casualties and where the biggest gaps are, it’s always communication,” Baron said. “So having those relationships built into our day-to-day communication allows us, when something does happen, to already have those relationships built in. So, that the first time we meet is not on that scene, at that incident, when we should be doing other things rather than saying ‘Hello and this is who I am and this is why I’m here.’”
The San Antonio Police Department, San Antonio Fire Department, Bexar County Sheriff’s Office and Joint Base San Antonio all work in the center daily monitoring surveillance views in real time across the city and radio traffic as crews respond to calls.
“As soon as they hear it, they get on that call and they start looking in to see if there is anything that they can provide as the officers are on the way or arriving on that scene as it’s happening,” Baron said.
The Fusion Center team is also responsible for assessing threats ahead of large events like Fiesta, the Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon, Holiday River Parade or Final Four.
They also comb through tips made to law enforcement through Crimestoppers, the SAPD non-emergency line or the TIP411 platform, which is a way to submit an anonymous tip made via text message or online.
After a mass shooting, its common to hear about troubling behavior in the shooter’s past.
If it’s not a crime, should disturbing details about things someone says or does be reported to law enforcement?
Is it enough?
The team at the Fusion Center says absolutely.
“There are often behavioral indicators with those individuals leading up to those events. That’s been shown by research done by the FBI and the Secret Service and other entities,” Baron said. “And those behavioral indicators could potentially be tips that we would process, look at and try to say that maybe we should do something more with it.”
A integral part of responding to such tips includes working alongside clinicians with The Center for Health Care Services, the local mental health authority.
Three mental health clinicians work in the Fusion Center daily.
“If they deem that it’s appropriate for the clinicians to go out, the clinicians will actually go out into the field with an officer attached to them and basically do a risk assessment, kind of figure out what’s going on,” said Amanda Miller, CHCS Crisis Response Program Administrator. “How can we help you? Is this individual, you know, untreated? Are they not actively on medications? Had they have been on medications, would they have made the threats they made?”
Sometimes the person in question refuses help or no action can be taken by law enforcement.
But that initial tip could be one piece of a larger puzzle.
“The individuals who are on that pathway to violence -- it’s not something that they snap and do something right at that time,” Baron said. “That person that we’re kind of looking for in that context has some planning involved. That leakage may be a piece of it. And that leakage being they’re saying that they’re upset or have a grievance or want to hurt somebody. That alone may not be something that we go out and engage with, but that’s a piece of what we may need to know more about.”
Even if its not a tip made to law enforcement, if something seems troubling, unusual or out of character, report it to someone.
“It’s always best to err on the side of caution,” Miller said. “If something makes you uncomfortable, you have a gut feeling, it’s always the best thing to step up and say something, whether that’s to a teacher, a family member, a colleague.”