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August 1, 2014

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Metro terrorism expert applies lessons learned at international conference to Las Vegas

Since tensions flared more than a week ago between Israelis and Palestinians, Metro Police Officer Braden Schrag has frequently checked the news.

It’s the first thing he does when he wakes up, driven by what he calls a “personal connection” to the country after visiting Israel in September for an international counter-terrorism conference.

The Jewish Federation of Las Vegas paid for Schrag, who works in Metro’s Terrorism Liaison Officer Program, to attend the World Summit on Counter-Terrorism, Sept. 10-13 in Israel. The International Institute for Counter-Terrorism organized the annual conference.

Attending the conference was your first time in Israel. What was your biggest takeaway?

The Israelis are very resilient people. The country is an amazing landscape. They have phenomenal security measures all over, but a lot of those security measures are driven because of the environment they have to live in — the constant threat of suicide bombers, rocket attacks as we’ve seen over the last week or so.

I think one of the takeaways is I never want to have that environment here. I never want the United States to have to live with such security measures that you have to be wanded or walk through a metal detector to go into a mall.

It’s incumbent upon the community to keep it safe to identify crime and terrorism in all its forms — regardless of where it comes from — and truly be preventive before it happens.

The conference discussions seem very global in nature, exploring topics such as the “Resurgence of Sunni Islamism” and “Instability and the Crisis of Statehood.” As a Las Vegas police officer, what was the greatest benefit of attending?

One of the best things I was able to bring back was contacts and connections throughout the world. We often see crime and terrorism trends that are consistent regardless of what country you’re in. Having those contacts throughout the world … you can share information much more quickly.

More than 11 years have passed since the Sept. 11 attacks. Are Southern Nevada residents still vigilant about reporting suspicious activities?

People aren’t as vigilant generally speaking. But despite that, this community is much further along than a lot of communities around the country. There is a great desire to keep this community safe — not just for the tourism and gaming industry, but across all segments of our community. There is much more involvement than the lay person might realize.

We can always do more. We can always do better. We’re never in a position where we’re good enough.

In recent years, there have been a number of instances involving a lone gunman entering a public area and killing multiple people — often at random. Are Americans less likely to notice and, perhaps, report people acting suspiciously as opposed to, say, an unusual package near a federal building?

I think some of it is people don’t want to be wrong. They want to make sure they’re not overstepping that boundary. We all have certain civil liberties, civil rights. We all have freedom of expression. People don’t want to just assume that somebody making a comment is going to result in something bad happening.

I think sometimes we overlook that. But I also will say there have been a number of occasions and times when people have reported that information. It has come forward.

The upcoming holidays bring an influx of visitors to Las Vegas, especially for New Year’s Eve. What’s your advice for the community?

Remain vigilant. (Don’t) be afraid to be a voice when something seems out of place. We all know when something is out of place — whether we choose to recognize it or not is an individual decision we make.

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For more information about terrorism prevention, Schrag suggests visiting the website for the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center.

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