Special to the Journal
Middleton Police Chief James DiGianvittorio always dreamed of becoming a police officer, but he never expected counter-terrorism to be such a high priority policing issue. In response to visiting a Kibbutz not far from the Gaza Strip during his recent Counter Terrorism Training in Israel, DiGianvittorio expressed surprise over the proximity of hostile populations. “That was so amazing to me, how close they live to the Gaza Strip. They have apps on their phones that alert them to attacks. They have seven seconds to get into a safe house. There are safe houses all around the Kibbutz, and a bomb shelter at the edge of a playground. Thousands of people who live in that community have to be fearful every day.”
Chief DiGianvittorio was a participant in the Anti-Defamation League’s annual Counter Terrorism Training Seminar in Israel, along with fourteen others such as Boston Police Commissioner Bill Evans; the District Attorney and Sheriff of Norfolk County; two college Chiefs of Police from MIT; Chiefs of Police from Arlington and Mansfield; two representatives of our State Police, and Michael Shea, representing Homeland Security Investigations Boston.
The Massachusetts ADL brings policing officials to Israel in order to share firsthand how the Israelis handle their counter-terrorism efforts. The group toured the offices, forensics laboratory and new police academy of the Israeli Police Department, met with Palestinian police, Israel’s military police, the IDF, and had a security briefing at Ben Gurion National Airport. DiGianvittorio explained that in Israel, the culture responds differently than we do to attacks. For example, they don’t glorify terrorism by making it front page news. “It’s normal for them, so they get the job done and move on. It’s difficult to fathom that at every border they have enemies. It’s very difficult for us here in the US to imagine.”
“I feel very confident about our situation here in Massachusetts,” said the Chief, who was recently sworn in as President of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association by Attorney General Maura Healey. He explained that in his estimation, Massachusetts officers are highly professional and extremely well trained so as a result, they don’t contend with “the kind of problems” experienced in other parts of the country. And he said that, while there is always more to learn about counter-terrorism, he believes Homeland Security is doing a good job.
Locally, the chief wants people to “not be complacent, be more vigilant – ‘see something, say something.’” During his visit to Israel there was a stabbing, allowing him to witness the low-key response from the media. “They don’t let it (terrorism) rule their lives. Here we tend to dwell on it.”
In regard to how he prepares for the possibility of a ‘lone actor’ attack, DiGianvittorio said Massachusetts is “becoming better at it,” as we experience more of it. “We haven’t had a lot of experience compared with Israel. We want to teach people what to look for, and to live a life that’s safe and secure.”
Interested in integrating the police department into his community, DiGianvittorio acknowledges that though Middleton is a small town without a synagogue, he feels very close to the Jewish community in that area, especially the Chabad of Merrimack Valley, where he came to know Rabbi Asher Bronstein, whose Shabbat services he has visited many times.
About eight years ago, DiGianvittorio officially placed Rabbi Bronstein on his staff as the department’s chaplain, signaling a certain maturity for Middleton. “Our town now has a menorah! I’m meeting with the rabbi tonight. I’m lighting the menorah tonight! I actually, at his invitation, face-timed the rabbi from the Wailing Wall when I was there. We talked, he said some prayers, I put some notes in the wall for him,” he noted proudly.
After twenty-eight years as a police officer, Chief Digianvittorio’s commitment to continuing to grow as a public servant, and as a person, is clearly visible. “I’m an Italian guy from East Boston. I’ve been brought into their (the Jewish community’s) family, and I’m very honored.”