"I went with police one night on patrol on Ben Yehuda Street," recalled Irvine Police Chief Michael Berkow. "There was a rock concert that night, about 20,000 people on the street, probably 80 percent 13, 14, 15, 16 years old, the rest parents with toddlers.
"We had all heard their point, that life goes on as usual, but I thought no one would show up. This is the most bombed street in Israel, and I couldn't imagine a better target.... I'm a guy who lived in Mogadishu for a year," Berkow said, "I was a little taken aback in Jerusalem."
The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) in Washington, D.C., knows that Israeli experience is as valuable to U.S. anti-terrorism efforts as American support is to Israel. Now local police are getting that experience firsthand, as JINSA begins a new program to send high-ranking officers to Israel. The defense policy think tank has been sending generals, admirals and military academy students to Israel since 1973.
Ten police officials from across the U.S. traveled to Israel in late August with JINSA. Three from Southern California met with about 30 local supporters on Sept. 18 to discuss the value of continuing the new program. JINSA supporter David Justman, who hosted the meeting at the Regency Club in Westwood, described the organization as "doing for the military what AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] does for the political side."
While in Israel, the officers met with Israeli Minister of Public Security Uzi Landau and National Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishsky. They visited sites of bombings at the Dolphinarium nightclub and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. They also met with the general manager of Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv, the tallest buildings in the Middle East, which have faced -- and thwarted -- several attempted terrorist attacks since 2000.
The three Southern California police officials on the trip were LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Bostic, Garden Grove Police Chief Joseph Polisar and Berkow.
Bostic has served 29 years with the LAPD, the last seven as deputy chief. For the past three years, he has overseen the department's human resources operation. "It's as dull as it sounds," he said, so the trip to Israel, for him, was an "opportunity to be a real police officer again."
Berkow, who has also served as South Pasadena police chief, has published articles on ethics, internal affairs and early warning systems for police. Berkow has also worked for the Justice Department, leading police training projects in Somalia and Haiti, and consulting with the national police forces of Jamaica, Northern Ireland, Hungary and Romania. Berkow, who has a law degree from Syracuse University, described himself as "a New York Jewish lawyer."
Garden Grove's Polisar, "also a New York Jew," told the JINSA supporters that he had honeymooned in Israel. He serves on the board of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a group from which JINSA has already received dozens of requests for next year's trip.
Others on this first JINSA law enforcement exchange included Police Chiefs Ralph Mendoza of Ft. Worth, Texas and Joseph Morris of the New York/New Jersey Port Authority, and Sheriff Kevin Beary of Orange County, Fla., who is president of the Major County Sheriff's Association.
For Bostic, who had never visited Israel before, the learning experience began at the El Al ticket counter, with the "kid" who asked a few questions about his luggage. "He already knew who I was. So that was unnerving. Then about five minutes into our little conversation, I realized I was being very professionally interrogated."
As with JINSA's Israel tours for military brass and cadets, the goal of the police trip was twofold: to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Israeli security establishments and to "exchange ideas and tactics to help the United States get up to speed as quickly as possible," Justman said.
In addition to visiting the sites of previous attacks and high-security areas, the officers met with their Israeli counterparts, going on patrols. Morris presented the public security minister with a Star of David made from steel recovered from the World Trade Center.
The Southern California police officials on the trip said they have already begun applying what they learned in Israel to prepare for possible terrorist attacks. Berkow, who joined the Israeli police patrolling the rock concert, has a specific goal for that ride-along. "In Irvine, we have the Verizon Amphitheater [and] the Spectrum," he said, "so seeing the kind of nuances they deal with was directly applicable."
The three Southern Californians said they were impressed by the flow of information and coordination by the Israeli police. After a week of observing what Bostic called "incredibly seamless operations," he noted, "There's a lot to learn about that."
Polisar, who admitted that the United States' roughly 17,000 police agencies "do a poor job of talking to each other," said he admired the Israelis' ability to work together. "No police force on the face of the planet has greater expertise," he said.
For the law enforcement officials on JINSA's first police trip to Israel, perhaps the greatest lesson was in exactly what they should be expecting in the future. "America needs to stand up and figure out that they [Israel] are our first line of defense," Bostic said. "We've got to be aware that everything's coming."