The news of the terrorist killings in Paris and Brussels spread with the speed of light around the world as yet another Islamic terrorist act grabbed attention.
It was another in a line of big deals in places like Sydney, Boston, New York and London – world capitals where publicity would be maximized.
It’s enough to make you think that "it could never happen here," in Milwaukee. But in that tiny little place in your mind lurks the "well, it might happen here" thought.
And that’s where Milwaukee Police Capt. Dave Salazar comes in.
Salazar supervises the Intelligence Fusion Center, an intelligence gathering agency that is charged with keeping tabs on and looking for any suspected terrorist activity in the southeastern Wisconsin area. The agency is a loose coalition of police and other law enforcement agencies at all levels, state, local and federal. That coalition is known as STAC, The Southeastern Wisconsin threat Analysis Center.
"I know people don’t think it can happen here," Salazar said, pointing to the FBI arrest of a man who was planning to bomb the capitol and murder people fleeing from the bombing. "But look at the guy they arrested in Cincinnati. Shave off his beard and he looks like your average 20-year-old in Ohio ... or Wisconsin."
Every city goes through training and practice exercises for what a giant tragedy happens. Emergency management simulations happen regularly.
But gathering intelligence is by far the best way to protect against an attack.
"A huge part of what we do is outreach," Salazar said. "It’s our program, 'See Something, Say Something,' that is critical to what we do.
"Information sharing is very important. Say you see someone taking a photo of a police station and you report it. It could be something or it could be someone studying architecture. We try to see if there is a connection to other information that makes this event rise to the level as an indicator of a possible attack.
"One of the things we are very concerned with is what we call the HVE, or home-grown violent extremist," he said. "The guy in Ohio would fall into that category. An American citizen who has views in line with ISIL. It’s important that we have trusted partners because, unlike criminal activity, there is always a social component to terrorism."
Salazar understandably doesn’t want to reveal any of the operational details of what the task force does.
"We are very careful about not violating anyone's rights," Salazar said. "But times changed after Sept. 11. The sharing of information is crucial to all of this.
"And it works both ways. If we develop information that has a nexus as possible terrorism we share it with our partners. And Homeland Security does a great job, like in the Ohio case, of getting information to us right away and we share it with over 180 law enforcement agencies. We always want to know what works and what doesn’t work."
In Milwaukee, and presumably other cities, the task of reaching out and intelligence gathering isn’t limited to a special force, although there are dedicated officers. Every police officer on the force has a heightened awareness of terror threats and they all work their sources and remain especially observant so that the flow if information is continual. The evaluation of that information is important, but getting it is the biggest job of all.
"The way we look at terrorism is homeland security," he said. "But homeland security is really hometown security. The first level of this intelligence is always the local activity. That is where we have to start.
"Our job is taking that information and putting it into a greater context. It’s complicated. So much of it is about building relationships. We look at attacks from the past and see where there was a falling down and make sure we don’t repeat those mistakes.
"The other guys can hit one out of three or one out of four times. For us, we’ve got to be right 100 percent of the time. That’s what we try to do."
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.