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‘See something, say something’ security program unseen by most Americans

National

Published: Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 14:06

Scripts Howard

Caleigh Bourgeois / SHF Wire

Subcommittee Chairman, Rep Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., said public skepticism decreases the credibility of the Department of Homeland Security. The hearing revealed that most Americans do not know about a major DHS program.

WASHINGTON – Just a fourth of Americans have heard of one of the Department of Homeland Security’s main security campaigns, according to witnesses at a House subcommittee hearing.

The “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign encourages people to help prevent danger in their own communities by reporting suspicious activity.

Bill Braniff, executive director for the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, said at the hearing June 14 that a survey showed only 24 percent of respondents from a national sample had heard of the campaign.

“Continued implementation of the program over time may increase the public’s awareness of it,” he said.

The subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency of the Homeland Security Committee held the hearing to discuss how the DHS could improve communications with the American people.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., the subcommittee chair, said he is concerned with the department’s public outreach.

“It is disappointing to me that a country that leads the world in effective advertising and marketing cannot be as effective in communicating with its own citizenry on even the most basic policies related to homeland security,” he said.

Duncan said the report on the campaign was disappointing.

“A DHS-sponsored report released only hours before the Boston Marathon bombings found that almost 60 percent of Americans said they had never heard anything about the program,” he said, referring to the survey.

Robert Jensen, DHS principal deputy assistant secretary in the office of public affairs, said the campaign has room for growth. “We will continue to expand the campaign in the coming months and years,” he said.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, said there are problems in the way legal immigrants are treated at the El Paso border crossing in his district.

“It’s 160 degrees in El Paso, they’ve been waiting hours in the heat, on foot on these bridges to cross in, and many times they get to the front of that line, they feel as though they are harassed, and don’t often feel like they can pursue that harassment or that mistreatment, because they’ve already been waiting for hours,” he said.

Tamara Kessler, acting officer for DHS civil rights and civil liberties, said visual instructions could help fix the border problem.

“Currently we’re working on a brochure, possibly a poster, that would be in the ports of entry called ‘Know Your Rights and Responsibilities,’ which would really lay out what would happen in the process, what is appropriate, what is inappropriate and where you can file a complaint,” she said.

A few subcommittee members said the Transportation Security Administration is a source of public disconnect with DHS.

Duncan referred to a viral video of a handicapped toddler becoming increasingly upset as TSA employees examined her. TSA later apologized and returned the child’s stuffed animal.

The DHS officials did not stay at the hearing for the expert advice, even after Duncan said they should.

Reach Caleigh Bourgeois at caleigh.bourgeois@shns.com or 202-326-9866.

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