By Deepti Hajela
NEW YORK — The U.S. government needs to do more to educate and engage the public, so that everyday Americans can be part of a multi-layered strategy to prevent terrorism, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
"For too long, we've treated the public as a liability to be protected rather than asset in our nation's collective security," Napolitano said Wednesday during a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. "This approach, unfortunately, has allowed confusion, anxiety and fear to linger."
Napolitano said the country's counter-terrorism efforts should include the public, that "you are the ones who know if something is not right in your communities, such as a suspicious package, or unusual activities."
She said the government also needed to work with the private sector, to make sure critical infrastructure in that sector, like commercial facilities and chemical plants are secure.
Local law enforcement is another layer of the strategy, as is the federal government, and international allies, Napolitano said.
"The challenge is not just using federal power to protect the country, but also enlisting a much broader societal response to the threat that terrorism poses," she said.
She said the goal was to "get to a point where we are in a constant state of preparedness, not a constant state of fear."
Napolitano emphasized the need to share information between different federal agencies, and between federal and local law enforcement; to pay attention to threats in places like the cyber world as well as biological or chemical attacks, and to secure borders as well as monitor home-grown threats.
Some of her department's policies on securing borders and combating illegal immigration have come under criticism from immigration reform advocates, who say what's needed is overall immigration reform.
A group of protesters gathered across the street from the site of Napolitano's speech to speak out against a federal program that allows local and state law enforcement officials to arrest and deport immigrants. They also have other concerns, such as immigration raids and investigations into whether employers have hired illegal immigrants.
"We definitely can not accept mass enforcement and mass deportation actions that are more of the same, that revive and expand the Bush-era tactics that are the very core of the problem that we need to solve," said Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.
Napolitano's schedule in New York City also included a visit to Ground Zero. The department she heads was created in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
She was joined by Mayor Michael Bloomberg at Grand Central Terminal to announce a $35.9 million grant that would be used to hire about 125 police officers for the city's subways.
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A total of nearly $78 million in funding is going to 15 transit systems across the country to hire about 240 officers, Homeland Security announced Wednesday.