From Lower Merion to Israel on Terror Patrol


What could a Lower Merion police superintendent learn from Israel? Plenty, it seems.

Lower Merion Township Superintendent of Police Michael McGrath doesn’t think it’s essential for law enforcement agencies in California or Texas to apprise him of their policing and the local threats they face. But he thinks increasing communication with other agencies in the Northeast could help counterterrorism efforts: Better communication equals better security.

That’s a point of emphasis for those who protect Israel, McGrath observed while in the Jewish state for counterterrorism training sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League. Ben-Gurion Airport security talks to the Israeli Police who talk to the Israel Defense Forces.

McGrath serves on a law enforcement advisory committee for the ADL in Philadelphia. The organization paid for McGrath and 13 other public safety officials from Maine to Pennsylvania and a lieutenant colonel from the Italian national police to spend 10 days recently learning how soldiers, police officers and other government employees manage security in the forever threatened Middle East country. 

“I’ve been to a number of programs locally, and they’re excellent as well, but this is an opportunity see firsthand how Israel deals with counterterrorism,” McGrath said. “What other nation in the world faces that threat on a more consistent level than Israel?”

McGrath acknowledges that security in Israel and security in America are two different matters: Israel is the size of New Jersey and has one police force for the entire country, so thorough coordination from one border to the other is attainable. That same level of cooperation between borders is obviously a loftier goal in the United States, but officials in Pennsylvania talking more with officials in, say, New Jersey can and should happen, McGrath said. 

“Were fortunate here in the Philadelphia area that we have a great working relationship with the various agencies, but you know we can continue to do better,” McGrath said. He added that cooperation among law enforcement agencies has improved significantly since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The trainees also observed the technology Israel uses to bolster its security. McGrath said local law enforcement employs similar equipment, just not as extensively in Israel. The training and technology, McGrath said, could have applications outside the realm of counterterrorism, for more ordinary policing in Lower Merion.

A first-time visitor to Israel, McGrath said most of the trip was filled with training and meetings, but the group managed to see some of Israel’s main attractions such as the Western Wall, which included a night tour of the tunnels beneath the holy site. He said he appreciated the attitude towards safety of the officials with whom he spoke.

“What was impressive was how much they emphasized that these sites need to be open to everyone,” McGrath said. “And their talking about their willingness to compromise and that they would like to have peace — but that it has to be peace with security.”