Today we are joined by Steve Walter. Steve supervises the crime analysis and intelligence unit at the Oceanside police department in Oceanside, California. He manages the department’s intelligence strategy and provides threat assessments during periods of civil unrest working closely with neighbouring police agencies, the FBI and the San Diego law enforcement Coordination Center. Steve also supervises the department’s terrorism liaison officer program and serves as the coordinator and lead instructor for its annual terrorism training course. Steve is a former president of the San Diego crime and intelligence analysis Association and a frequent guest speaker for the International Association of crime analysts. Steve holds a Bachelor of Arts and Communication from Lewis and Clark College in beautiful Portland, Oregon, and a master’s degree in contemporary British history, Queen Mary College and the University of London.
Oceanside Police Department License Plate
And we’re all coming off the back of a really eventful year in 2020, the COVID pandemic civil unrest across Europe, in America and Latin America, presidential election in the US, that was eventful, to say the least. And of course elevated risks across American cities for both civilians, companies and law enforcement. How do you see these events impacting the risk landscape in 2021?
Well, there’s certainly a lot to talk about, as you alluded to, it’s been an eventful year, to say the least. And I think it’s safe to say that the entire landscape has really changed when it comes to threats and risks that are facing not only American cities, but cities across the world, and the law enforcement agencies that are trying to keep people safe. I was thinking about this. And the fact that here we are coming to the end of February. And we’re pretty much at the one year anniversary of the COVID pandemic and thinking back to a year ago, and seeing that this was going to be an event that impacted us all, but really having no idea how much it was going to impact us and things that we’re going to see. If you take a look back, and you think about what we saw as far as civil unrest across America, and Europe and so on, I think you have to factor in the COVID pandemic and the effects that it had. So certainly here in Southern California, we were put on under lockdown orders fairly quickly. And people responded, and he did those guidelines. So I remember in those first weeks of March, for example, you know, the streets were like a ghost town, you would drive to the office and there was no traffic and people were at home and everybody was shut indoors. So when you fast forward to the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, you already had a population that was approaching burnout as far as the stay at home orders and the lockdown and the pandemic. So people were already really frustrated. They were affected economically, they were struggling with their businesses. Kids were home from school, you had parents that were struggling to deal with that. So you had a lot of pent up anger, I think everywhere. And when these events started to unfold, it created a scenario where you had a tinderbox That was ready to be lit. And I think that is really something we have to acknowledge. And we think we can see it in a better perspective now, that that was a key factor in the civil unrest that we did see. So when you look at the events of 2020, and you talk about the pandemic, you talk about the civil unrest, and the Black Lives Matter movement in the protest, which were the largest ever in US history, and then all of that leading into the election season, there’s no doubt that the landscape has changed. And I think more than anything is really created a climate that is ripe for domestic terror threats. I think, as an intelligence analyst. For years and years, when we talk about terrorism type threats, we were focused on international terrorism. But now I think that is really flipped. And we are all looking at our local communities, we’re looking at our local environment, and trying to recognize threats that might be right under our noses that are more in line with the domestic nature, and less in line with what we’ve seen in the past as far as international terrorism. So all those things, the way they came together, it really, I think, created a perfect storm. And going forward, I think that will be the number one concern when it comes to intelligence analysis and risk assessment and threat assessments related to terrorism issues.
Yeah, I think you touched on a lot of really valuable points there, Steve, as many of our listeners know, I’ve spent most of my career working in Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen, Sudan, in many other places affected by high levels of war and conflict. But more recently, my career and the clients that I’m working with, we’ve really been focused on the risks that are being presented in North America and Europe. You mentioned, a climate being ripe for domestic terrorism. Can you talk to that? And what does that look like for our listeners, across America, the UK and maybe even in Europe?
Yes, absolutely. I think the most striking feature about what we saw with the protests across America was the fact that they were happening in an environment where we already had huge political divides. And so what that did is, every time we had a protest, even if it was a protest, that was organized with the intent of a peaceful demonstration, and the organizers, were responsible and committed to a peaceful protest, you had a scenario where you were always worried about a counter protest. Any group that puts themselves out there to demonstrate is going to attract attention from the opposition. And that’s where the unpredictable part of this whole thing comes in, you don’t know who is going to show up in opposition of whatever group decides to pick the date and the location to have a demonstration. And I think you can look at what happened in the events surrounding the election. And especially when you look at the riot that happened at the Capitol, you can almost see that as a form of counter protest against what you saw earlier in the year, almost a feeling like now it’s our turn to come out and protest for all we believe in. And I think what this tends to do, it just ratchets up tensions, and it creates an environment where you’re going to attract extremists. So what’s really different now is that when you talk about domestic terror threats, you may not even be worried about a particular organization, or what their plans are, it’s more about a movement that’s attracting the attention of somebody who is on the extreme end ready to carry out violence. So it’s the same idea to me as any kind of a lone wolf terrorist or homegrown extremist that may not actually be affiliated with a particular organization. But with so much public attention on open demonstrations, and with all of the exposure that people can get through social media, you run the risk of somebody latching on to those ideas that are looking to use violence to get their message across. Or you could end up with a person that is mentally unstable, that really has no ties to any kind of an organization that just shows up and carries out something unexpected, that has no affiliation with whatever group is demonstrating.
There’s certainly been a lot of very high profile and hugely impactful events that have caused a lot of emotion. You know, we talked about the George Floyd killing the Black Lives Matter movement COVID economic challenges and so many issues that have affected not just Americans, but everyone around the world. And you know, it really is a tinderbox waiting to be lit. We’re also seeing the trends of companies, business leaders and government security. Agencies increasingly being the focus of violent protests. Why is it that people are so angry that they’re now attacking businesses and police forces?
I think the situation that you have here is that people are finding demonstrations and protests as a way to vent their frustrations for whatever issue they have on their minds. Even going back to the Black Lives Matter protests, even though a lot of those protests, the focus of those protests was racism in America, and police brutality and so on, you had people that were showing up with completely different agendas, things that were maybe issues that were more personal to them, that they were frustrated about. And they may not even be affiliated with the group that’s organizing the protest, we see protests over anything and everything. Now, we have a protest a few weeks ago, just outside of Dodger Stadium, in which a group of anti-vaccination protesters showed up and shut one of the larger vaccination sites. Our city has a protest tomorrow over the closing of a public pool. So you get anything and everything. Now, I don’t know, if it’s because of the fact that a lot of people are stuck at home, and they’re out of work. And they’re more tapped into these issues. And they have the time available to show up for these things.
But you definitely have a pattern, you have a pattern where anytime there is a grievance in a community. In the past, I think it would be one of the last options to organize a demonstration. And it’s now become one of the first options. So I think political businesses, especially government agencies, whether it’s a police department, or if it’s any kind of a government office, those are all becoming likely focal points for open demonstrations.