- Customers at Walmart will soon be watching Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano telling them to report suspicious behavior
Story and photo
By Jack Minor
The Greeley Walmart store is one of several hundred that have teamed up with the Department of Homeland Security to participate in a program that encourages citizens to report any suspicious behavior they observe to local law enforcement officials.
The partnership involves a DHS program called, “If You See Something, Say Something.” The program was originally implemented by New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The program is similar to the Terrorism and Information Prevention System, or TIPS, under the Bush administration. That program was criticized by civil libertarian groups who had concerns the government was encouraging people to spy on their neighbors. Concerns over civil liberties violations resulted in the cancellation of the TIPS program.
In announcing the plan, DHS secretary, Janet Napolitano, said, “Homeland security begins with hometown security and each of us plays a critical role in keeping our country and communities safe.” She went on to say, “I applaud Walmart for joining the ‘If You See Something, Say Something’ campaign. This partnership will help millions of shoppers across the nation identify and report indicators of terrorism, crime and other threats to law enforcement authorities.”
As part of a partnership, customers in Walmart checkout lines will see a brief video that features Napolitano asking shoppers to contact law enforcement if they see anything suspicious in the parking lot or in the store. Rick Krehbiel, store manager for the Walmart supercenter located on 10th St., confirmed the store would be participating in the program. Other participants in the program include Mall of America and the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
What is unclear is the extent to which companies such as Walmart will be asked to assist in detaining persons of interest. The Gazette asked Walmart corporate if DHS was expecting them to detain individuals, if requested by law-enforcement, until officers could arrive at the scene. They were also asked if they had received assurances they would not be held liable if they detained someone based simply on a report by another customer. Multiple requests for information were not returned.
There has already been one such case in which a private company was sued for acting on individuals with concerns. In November, 2006, US Airways removed six Muslim imams from a flight in Minneapolis. Passengers reported the men after they became concerned about their behavior. Three of the men had prayed aloud in front of passengers as they waited for the flight to depart. Upon boarding, a passenger passed a note to the pilot expressing concerns. The men reportedly were spaced out throughout the cabin, speaking in Arabic and cursing US involvement in Iraq.
Based on the concerns, the Metropolitan Airports Commission and a Federal Air Marshall boarded the aircraft and detained the imams. Following questioning, they were permitted to board a later flight. The men subsequently sued the government and US Airways as well as the individual passengers who had reported their behavior. As a result of this incident, congress passed a law protecting individuals who report suspicious behavior, but no such protection was offered to business.
Homeland Security has taken more aggressive security steps to prevent terrorist attacks in the past few months. Enhanced security procedures at airports have resulted in widespread complaints because of the invasive nature of those searches. Other passengers have questioned the constitutionality of the searches. The agency has discussed expanding the screenings to other locations such as bus stops and trains.