JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Law enforcement agencies across the country will be out in full force over the Fourth of July weekend, and the FBI is urging the public to remain vigilant of their surroundings.
The FBI said it currently has no specific or credible threats against Northeast Florida but reiterated its mantra: If you see something, say something.
“If you're out at the beach enjoying fireworks and somebody is wearing a heavy overcoat, that's a clue,” said Michelle Klimit, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Jacksonville Division.
From Orlando to Istanbul, large-scale attacks have been seen across the world in recent weeks.
Klimt said that no piece of information reported to authorities is too small. She said agents would rather investigate and have tips turn out to be nothing than find out after it's too late.
“I don't want people to be paranoid,” Klimt said. “I want people to go out and have a great time, to celebrate the Fourth of July and our independence. It's just being aware of your surroundings.”
Travelers who are flying this weekend are asked to keep an eye out at airports. Bags that look out of place or suspicious should be reported immediately.
“Any holiday, we just ask people to be aware of their surroundings,” Klimt said. “We do the best that we can with the intelligence that we receive. That's why it's so important to us to ask the communities out there to please stay alert.”
Members of the FBI Jacksonville's Joint Terrorism Task Force and other partners will be working around-the-clock over the holiday weekend.
The JTTF is a team of highly trained specialists from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies who monitor, exchange, and act upon information regarding possible terrorism activity throughout the Division’s 40-county area of responsibility.
“The public should not be afraid, but we are asking them to be engaged and aware of what is happening around them at all times,” Klimt said “Terrorists today are using social media to target vulnerable followers who, despite limited resources, can orchestrate and carry out attacks with minimal training and time. Our number one priority is protecting the United States from terrorism, and identifying the possibility of homegrown extremists living in our own backyards will require everyone to be vigilant of their surroundings.”
Important information could include when and where suspicious activity is taking place, who is doing it and why it is suspicious.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said that the internet has made it more difficult for investigators, but still any information helps.
“There are several attacks that have been thwarted over the past few years because people have called in and provided that information,” Smith said.
Smith said the tricky thing is that there isn’t one particular thing to watch for.
“You are really not looking for a particular nationality or a particular race or religion,” Smith said. “You are looking for suspicious behavior; things that anybody is doing that are suspicious.”
Smith said that another reason for people to keep an eye out is that the sound of the fireworks can obscure the sounds of gunshots. He said the best way to know if something is happening is to know who is around you.
“Sometimes firearms can sound like fireworks, so it may take someone a little bit longer to notice if someone is shooting a firearm,” Smith said.
Individuals who wish to report suspicious activity in the state of Florida can call the FDLE’s toll-free hotline 1-855-FLA-SAFE, the FBI Jacksonville Field Office at 904-248-7000 or local law enforcement by dialing 911 in an emergency.
For more information about the “If You See Something, Say Something” program, visit http://www.dhs.gov/see-something-say-something.