High ranking police officials from New York, D.C., Los Angeles and London gathered at NYPD headquarters Thursday to discuss the growing threat of “lone wolf” terrorists and how their departments can work together stop them.
Thursday marked the eight annual Operation SENTRY conference, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said at a briefing. Bratton said the main takeaways from the meeting included developing closer relationships with communities, especially with significant Muslim populations, and that social media is changing the way terrorist organizations like ISIS interact with potential recruits.
“They are rapidly expanding their capabilities beyond anything that Al Qaeda ever dreamed of, using social media, magazines, websites, to actively recruit, and successfully recruit,” Bratton said. “It’s an emerging threat.”
John Miller, who is the department’s deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism, gave a presentation on the emergence of “lone wolf” terrorist attacks. Miller briefly spoke about Zale Thompson, who was shot and killed on a Queens street last month after hitting a police officer in the head with a metal hatchet.
Officer Kenneth Healey, 25, continues to recover from the attack. According to police, Thompson, 32, attacked Healey and another officer as they posed for a photo on Jamaica Avenue. Thompson was shot and killed by two other police officers, and a woman bystander was shot in the back during the ordeal.
Police believe Thompson acted alone in the premeditated attack, and the NYPD learned in an investigation that Thompson had viewed beheading videos and terrorist websites leading up to the attack.
“The challenge is if the conspiracy to commit a terrorist act is a conspiracy of one, then the planning for that is unsophisticated,” Miller said. “It’s only happening in the mind of the offender, from an intelligence standpoint, from a prevention standpoint, that’s very hard to detect.”
Miller said “lone wolf” terrorists, like a school shooter, usually say things related to an upcoming attack. Darrel W. Stephens, executive director of the Major City Chiefs Association, said community policing is key to developing relationships, so departments receive tips when an individual starts acting erratically.
Metropolitan Police of London Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said his department is able to access and remove internet data that might provoke terrorism activity, and said it’s important his department maintains access and doesn’t “go dark” due to privacy concerns.