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Van Hollen: Boston bombings a good example of why the public paying attention pays off


MADISON, WI (WSAU) -  Last week’s Boston bombings has law enforcement professionals urging the public to watch for suspicious activity and report it.

Wisconsin’s Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is one of them. He says as we learn more about the suspects and the investigation, we wonder how could it be prevented, if at all.

Van Hollen says it’s easy to know when it is appropriate to call 9-1-1. “Quite frankly, as soon as they start to question whether they should or shouldn’t call law enforcement, they should. Obviously, we don’t want prank calls and we don’t want people abusing this, but I think if people question anything at all, if something seem suspicious or odd to them, then it probably is.”The Attorney General encourages the public to help be the eyes and ears and report things you see that seem unusual. “We can’t have eyes and ears everywhere in the community, but there are (already) many eyes and ears out there and we need to make sure that they become part of our community protection.”

Wisconsin has communications networks set up to help move information from the public, law enforcement, and investigators to and from each other. One tool is the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network, which Van Hollen says works much like a police scanner. Agencies send out text or email messages about issues and incidents they want other officers and the public to watch out for. There is also two “intelligence fusion centers” that compile information from many sources and departments to solve cases and evaluate possible threats. The public can also report non-emergency observations to WiWATCH.org, or call the WI WATCH toll free phone number.

WiWATCH is part of the national “If you See Something, Say Something™” campaign you’ve probably heard about on WSAU Radio.

Van Hollen says these communications links also connect with national emergency centers, which kept them on top of what was happening in Boston. He says that kind of communication between agencies and the public could be vital for handling widespread threats. “Like in Boston, multiple bombs went off consecutively, but who knows. Had that been a national plan or conspiracy where they would have gone off in different parts of the nation, it would have been nice to be forewarned.”

Signing up for the Wisconsin Crime Alert Network costs 12-dollars a year.  For non-emergency reports, you can go to WiWATCH.org or call 1-877-WI-WATCH (949-2824).