Terror alert states obvious for local police

In response to Monday evening’s heightened terrorist alert — the second in only three weeks issued by the Bush administration — Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said, “Duh.”

Hawley said that all the steps are already in place for local law enforcement to respond to any kind of threat, despite the fact that his department’s resources are “stretched thin right now.”

Volunteers are currently being used to monitor critical areas, Hawley said, because most of regular employees are busy answering phone calls.

The sheriff’s department has been receiving the same terrorist alerts as the press, said Hawley. He guessed that, in one sense, such wide-spread media alerts “may be a prevention strategy.”

Hawley added that, beyond this, he is reluctant to disclose the specifics of any local anti-terrorism operations. He urged citizens not to panic after this most recent alert, and to go about their business.

However, Hawley added, folks should “keep on the look-out for anything that looks suspicious.”

Oak Harbor Police Captain Rick Wallace said that local officers can’t go much further in heightening their current level of vigilance, though he added that the department is not yet to the point where vacations are being cancelled to swell the ranks.

“We’re maintaining normal operations,” Wallace said.

“Basically, our officers are just at a heightened state of alert,” he added.

Officers are being urged not to let their guard down, Wallace said, who added that such a heightened state of security definitely creates a heavier work load, Wallace said. Many local residents call in reports of suspicious activity, and every report is checked out, with some being forwarded to the counter-terrorism task force.

“Most of them resolve themselves,” Wallace said of such reports, though he added that this fact in no way refutes the legitimacy concerns of Oak Harbor residents.

Wallace claimed that, despite the “nebulous” nature of the most recent alert, he has sympathy for national legal authorities responsible for releasing the information. “It’s a real fine line,” he said about the decision to go public.

Hawley, though, appeared more critical of the alert, saying that he’s afraid of any ensuing panic such a notification might bring about locally. Especially worrisome, he said, are recent rumors circulating on the internet and in the press about malls being blown up on Halloween night.

“The rumors are more damaging than any bomb could be,” Hawley said. “It’s destroying our economy and disrupting our everyday lives.”

Hawley’s basic advice to the public is to stay alert, but to also remember that “we live in one of the safest places that I can think of. “We have to go about our daily lives.”

In regard to any potential disruptions on Halloween night, Wallace suggested that people do “whatever you feel comfortable with doing.”

He added that he would be more worried about criminal activity and “personal safety issues” during the holiday than he would about terrorism at this point.

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