ATLANTA — A large group of officers patrolled Atlanta’s Beltline on Wednesday to send a message to bikers and walkers the day after a terror suspect drove his truck onto a popular path in New York City, killing eight people.
Police said they want people to know they are protected in the wake of the deadly attack.
"We constantly think about those what ifs, and that what if happened in New York City," Atlanta police Lt. Jeff Baxter said.
Baxter sent his officers on the Pathforce unit out to the Beltline on Tuesday.
"So if somebody contemplating evil sees the image of those bicycles, what should they take away?" Channel 2's Mark Winne asked.
"They should know that we're vigilant," Baxter said.
He said early in his tenure as Pathforce commander, he visited with the NYPD to learn about how its officers protect bike paths.
"We've talked about this and worked to prepare and worked with our partners for a while now, ever since we started to see the pattern of these vehicle attacks," Baxter said.
Winne spoke with FBI special agent in charge David LeValley, who said the FBI has laid groundwork to try to prevent truck attacks in Georgia.
"Here in Atlanta, back when we started seeing this trend, particularly promoted by ISIS where they're using vehicle attacks to kill people, we started an initiative here to reach our to all of our rental truck agencies, all the businesses across Georgia that rent trucks in some capacity, to create that contact, that liaison, to discuss with them what we'd be interested in," LeValley said.
He said through the Joint Terrorism Task Force, a multi-agency force the FBI leads, more than 1,600 truck rental-related businesses were contacted.
Channel 2's Aaron Diamant spoke to the GBI director who said these attacks are often impossible to anticipate.
"It's our worst nightmare because we do not know absolutely how to prevent this," Vernon Keenan said. "It's very difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate when something like this is going to occur, but what we do have control over is how we respond to an event."
Gov. Nathan Deal echoed that sentiment, saying we must learn from experiences and figure out what can be done better.
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Keenan said the biggest concern is an attacker was not on anyone's radar.
Georgia State University terrorism expert Tony Lemieux said that even if a red flag goes up, "it's difficult to know when just looking at something might translate to actual behavior."
The FBI said close to the time Winne spoke with LeValley, a planning meeting was underway about security for the Super Bowl, to be hosted in Atlanta in 2019. The incident in New York caught the planners' attention.
"An incident like this could happen anywhere, not simply on a bike trail," LeValley said.
"When something like this happens, you feel it in your gut and you sit down and you work and you learn and you prepare," Baxter said.
LeValley said the FBI and JTTF also rely on the public to call in things that look suspicious. He said they'd rather check out a lead that goes nowhere, than to not get a call about something important.
Cox Media Group