Special to the City Paper  |  Public safety encompasses much more than law enforcement and over time has evolved into an inclusive community of agencies. Law enforcement is one volume of an entire encyclopedia that makes up public safety. 

Lauren Knapp

Today, public safety includes emergency medical services, 911 dispatchers, emergency management, fire officials and the public. These stakeholders provide valuable insight within a community to identify possible opportunities for violence prevention. However, first responders have historically focused on crisis and threat management, not violence and terrorism prevention.

Preventing targeted violence and terrorism focuses on proactive measures to build protective capabilities in groups and individuals within our community. These prevention activities aim to empower communities to recognize violent messaging and go from bystanders to upstanders when reporting activity that may be an early indicator of criminal or threatening behavior. Too often, it is after an act of violence that law enforcement gets involved in dealing with bad actors.

My role under Charleston County government’s Public Safety Directorate is to work with our public safety and community partners to prevent criminal attacks targeting schools, workplaces, public gatherings and other social settings. 

By focusing on early behavioral indicators of targeted violence and terrorism, prevention can begin long before a police report is written. That means breaking down how our first responders collect and share information to better improve our communication, identifying early indicators in potential mental health issues and working towards a more collaborative effort to handle those individuals earlier in the mobilization process. I am working to implement a whole government approach, i.e., the involvement of all public safety agencies and not just law enforcement, to provide better protection to our citizens. My goal is to increase the ability of local public safety officials to counter individuals who would bring harm to our community.

Public awareness is a critical component for preventing targeted violence and terrorism, and it requires a whole government approach. This means re-evaluating how first responders share essential information and breaking out of community silos preventing communication. 

We live in a society where people will not stop to report suspicious and criminal indicators to the proper authorities. Our community mindset must change to prevent attacks and criminal behavior. Education, awareness and the whole government approach are the most impactful tools we have for preventing crime.

Lauren Knapp, counter threat project coordinator for Charleston County, recently served as keynote speaker for an international conference about hate crimes for active Canadian police. In her role with the county, she helps provide support to five directors within Charleston County Government Public Safety Department, including the 911 Consolidated Dispatch Center, Emergency Management Department, Awendaw Fire Department, Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and Emergency Management Division.

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