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Israel trip an eye-opener for local law enforcement

COVINGTON - Covington Police Department's Capt. Ken Malcom has welcomed delegations from Israel to study American policing for years, and he hoped one day to be selected to participate in the two-week training exchange. This was his year.

"It was a two-week whirlwind tour of police practices, concerns not just of the Israeli police, but the Israeli government and Israeli people," he said. "As far as what I've been able to do in my 23 years as a police officer, the opportunities I've experienced with police training and events, this by far is the highlight of my career. I don't think I can do anything any more rewarding personally or professionally than experiencing this."

The training came through the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange, founded in 1992 by Robert Friedmann of the Georgia State Department of Criminal Justice. It marks the 17th delegation of Georgia law enforcement officers to visit Israel through the program.

Malcom said he learned that Israel's police were more like their American counterparts than unalike.

"They face the same things we face every day - burglaries, cars being stolen, shoplifting - but what you have to add into their issues of crime are car bombings, suicide bombers and rockets launched from the Gaza Strip," he said. "This is something they deal with on a daily basis. Nothing's routine in police work, but you can almost say it's routine for them to disarm a bomb before it explodes or deal with terrorist activities."

He said the wrong impression of the country is gained by watching cable news networks.

"It's a wonderful country. It's a beautiful country. I was never afraid," he said. "In general the Israeli people love Americans. The hospitality was unbelievable."

Malcom said the group toured the entire country, which is smaller than Georgia. When they weren't in training sessions, they were able to step outside and view living biblical history.

"As a Christian, it meant the world to me to be able to go to Jerusalem, see first-hand where biblical events occurred. In the future, reading the Bible, it will add a different perspective to that. I can say I've been there," he said. "It was moving to view where Jesus was crucified, to go to the areas where his sermons were conducted, his home where he lived with Peter, the Sea of Galilee and travel to the southern part of the country to see where Moses lived and led his people out of Egypt."

Most of their time was spent with law enforcement officials from all over the country.

"I have to stress getting to see those things (religious sites) was extra - if we left training close by. The majority of our time was talking, learning and networking with law enforcement," he said. "When you are awake and hit the floor, you are going."

Malcom said when he stepped off the bus at the first destination of the tour, he was greeted warmly by two friends he'd made when they visited Covington.

"That was neat - to travel that many miles and see somebody you know," he said.

He also got to meet some folks who weren't so glad to see him.

"We were able to go down into the cell block at a prison in Beersheba and see some known terrorists," he said. "They actually opened one of the cell doors and allowed us to step to the entrance and look at these people, to be eye-to-eye with them. The cell had eight terrorists in it. They stared at me and I stared at them. They didn't say anything, but it gave me chills to stand there with actual known radical terrorists."

But, Malcom stressed that the atmosphere in the country was a feeling of safety.

"You don't feel like when you're walking down the streets of Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv that you're surrounded by terrorist activity," he said. "It's a wonderful place to visit. It's a safe place to visit."

But, he admitted there are sad reminders that Israel is surrounded by fanatics who want to destroy the country and the people in it.

"We went into a police officer's home ... and he had a bomb shelter. He can't let his kids play too far from his house because you only have seconds if the alarm sounds of an incoming missile," he said.

Also, he recalled meeting a man who is in charge of security for a large mall, who talked of his concerns for shoppers who might be subject to terrorists or suicide bombers. But he also told of a personal concern.

"There are no big yellow buses in Israel," Malcom explained. "Over there, they use public transportation to get the kids to school. He said he makes his children take three separate buses to school. That just broke my heart when he said that. That is just some of the things they do for precautions."

Malcom said there is only one police force in Israel with 22,000 police officers divided into six districts, with 30 generals who run things in a style similar to the military.

"When they come over here, they are absolutely confused as to why there are so many police agencies," he said. "They can't grasp the concept that there's not one person in charge."

He said the one police force made for better communication.

"That's one of our challenges in law enforcement - making sure that everybody who needs the information gets the information. Over there, that's not a problem," he said.

The only thing Malcom admitted might be a problem of sorts was the Israeli version of American food.

"I had the worst Big Mac I've ever eaten in my life in Tel-Aviv," he said. "They fed us genuine Middle Eastern cuisine. I loved it. I really enjoyed the food, but the last night I was there, I went to McDonald's. I stood in line for 30 minutes and got a Big Mac meal for nine U.S. dollars. I bit into it, and it was absolutely the worst hamburger I've ever eaten in my life. Everything you tried to eat that was American just didn't taste right."

He said he was glad to be home but would treasure his memories and the friends he made always.

"I'll never watch the world news again the same," he said. "If there's any activity at all in Israel, I'm going to be worried for my friends."

Barbara Knowles can be reached at barbara.knowles@newtoncitizen.com