Midlands law officials step up vigilance after Boston bombing

04/16/2013 9:22 PM

04/17/2013 1:21 PM

Local law officers from the Columbia Police Department to SLED to the FBI said Tuesday the Boston Marathon bombing is a reminder that any place can be in terrorists’ crosshairs and say their agencies are on an even higher alert than usual.

“Do I believe something like that could happen here – yes,” said Lexington County Sheriff Jimmy Metts, whose 270-officer department helps with security on events such as the July 4 Gilbert Peach festival – which draws thousands – and at places such as the Lake Murray dam.

SLED Chief Mark Keel said his 333-agent agency is talking with law enforcement in Beaufort County, where this week’s Heritage Golf Tournament is being held, and Darlington County, where next month’s Mother’s Day NASCAR race will be.

“We’ve offered them all the resources that we have,” Keel said.

Acting Columbia police chief Ruben Santiago said he sent a blast email Tuesday reminding his approximately 400 officers to keep aware of their surroundings and, in their public contacts, remind citizens, “If you see something, say something.”

“Boston will be a constant reminder now. We don’t want to get complacent,” Santiago said, explaining that police draw up customized plans for each event.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said he met with his staff Tuesday. “We’re monitoring the situation. This is the time of year where everyone’s got festivals and races and church functions – one of the busiest times with outdoor events. We always have heightened security.”

Local law officers were also aware that domestic terrorists could be in the mix, including the unknown assassins who in recent months have killed a West Virginia sheriff, two Texas prosecutors and the Colorado state prison director.

Terrorists can strike anywhere, said Dave Thomas, FBI special agent in charge of the bureau’s some 100 agents in South Carolina. “There’s no way to predict something like that.”

Thomas’ FBI heads up three state Joint Terrorism Task Forces – in Columbia, Greenville and Charleston – through which regional law agencies regularly share terrorist intelligence. “We don’t want to get in the position where one department knew something and another didn’t,” he said.

University of South Carolina sociology professor Mathieu Deflem, a terrorism expert, said even though larger cities are most often terrorist targets, terrorists can use out-of-the-way bases to flee to or prepare plots. The 1996 Atlanta Olympic bomber’s escape to the North Carolina mountains and the 9/11 perpetrators using Florida flight schools are but two examples, he said.

Santiago said regular folks are often the first line of defense. “We would rather respond to 100 calls and all of them be false rather than that one time we are caught short.”

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