Brookhaven Police Chief Gary Yandura with Israeli border patrol guards during a recent presentation in Israel.
Brookhaven Police Chief Gary Yandura with Israeli border patrol guards during a recent presentation in Israel.

There are some places in the metro area you should watch your step after dark, Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone said. On a recent trip to the Middle East, he says he discovered the same is true in Israel.

“In the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, it’s a lot worse [than other areas],” DeSimone said. “I looked at it sort of like Atlanta: you go to Buckhead and it’s relatively safe, but other places in Atlanta, you better watch where you walk after the sun goes down.”

For the 23rd year in a row, The Georgia-Israel Law Enforcement Exchange sent public safety and law enforcement officers, including the police chiefs of Sandy Springs and Brookhaven, overseas for training. GILEE is a partnership between Georgia State University and local law enforcement agencies that helps prepare its participants to deal with threats to public safety and to improve security.

Seventeen Georgia law enforcement officials took part this year.

Though DeSimone had experience working with military police and traveling as a marine, he had never been to Israel, he said. He was the fourth person from Sandy Springs department to travel for the GILEE training, he said. Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan completed the training in Israel in 2000, before he came to Dunwoody.

“I’ve been to several countries around Israel, but not in Israel,” DeSimone said. “This is the 50th country in the world I’ve visited.”

Local chiefs said they look at their cities with a new perspective after the training. Brookhaven Police Chief Gary Yandura said the visiting officers ate in a restaurant where a suicide bomber had killed more than 20 people years earlier. They saw how law enforcement efforts had made communities safer, he said.

Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone, right front, listens during an Israeli training session.

DeSimone said he was most impressed by the way the Israeli police had to maintain law and order in such a diverse country. Though it’s a Jewish state, Muslims and Christians live there, too. “It was professionally rewarding to see how Israel police were able to police different communities, whether Islamic, Jewish, Christian or any subsets,” DeSimone said. “They are able to effectively police these communities fairly and equitably.”

Yandura had recently returned from training in the Republic of Georgia and compared his impression to Israel.

“Georgia was a little more secure because they weren’t under the threat of attack all the time,” Yandura said. “More people from this country should see how they [Israeli police] have to live in a panic mode—on alert 24 hours a day. We found out the police and military are on 24 hour, 7-day-a-week alert. If you heard a siren, you had 15 seconds to get downstairs.

“And there was an officer who was stabbed three times near Jerusalem” while they were visiting the country, he said.

After the stabbing, the border patrol guard shot and killed his attacker, DeSimone said.

Yandura said some of the technology that Israeli officers have, such as facial recognition technology, could help here. “Facial recognition is not perfect, but it’s improving,” Yandura said.

Yandura said a crowded place such as Perimeter Mall might make good use of facial recognition, especially to catch shoplifters.

Though the country and police stayed on high alert, Yandura said peace did exist in a small city of Acre, which the officers visited, Yandura said. Religious leaders such as Greek Orthodox priests and Muslim imams told the visitors they didn’t understand why others couldn’t simply coexist. “In this little town there was a lot of cohesiveness and they got along,” Yandura said. “They comingled very well.”

Both chiefs agreed that the mandatory military service requirement for Israeli citizens gives everyone greater respect for law enforcement. “There’s a sense of unity in the country,” Yandura said. “I suppose they’re more patriotic.”

Yandura said he knows an Israeli airline pilot who also volunteers to fly for the country’s air force, and he’s always on alert.

“I feel very fortunate we’re not worried about getting bombed all the time,” Yandura said.