Now that the holiday season is underway, with more indoor events taking place including religious services, shows and shopping, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security is asking Garden State residents to keep an eye out for anything that seems odd or unusual.

“Terrorism has not gone away. We’ve been very fortunate that we have not had any major incidents recently,” said NJOHSP Acting Director Laurie Doran.

What does 'keeping an eye out' really mean?

Doran said staying vigilant doesn’t mean you have to be constantly on edge, but it is important to know what’s going on.

“Everybody should have a degree of self-awareness for themselves personally, like you would to make sure nobody is going to snatch your purse when you’re walking down the street," she said.

Doran stressed it’s important “to be aware of your surroundings and of individuals who may be engaging in suspicious activity or behavior.”

Has New Jersey been threatened?

At this time, according to Doran, there are no credible threats against the state.

“We have not seen any increase in any kind of reporting on suspicious activity at religious facilities, shopping malls, entertainment venues like movie theaters or downtown areas.”

However, she stressed that people always need to "remain vigilant."

What if a threat is made?

Doran said if information is received about a possible attack, details will be shared with the public if there's a reason to do so.

"But we don’t want to impede any kind of law enforcement investigation, so that’s where we’re sort of careful as to what we would share. As much as we can share we would.”

She noted in addition to the possibility of a physical assault there is also increasing concern about cyberattacks, so it’s important for everyone to stay aware of what’s going on with their computers as well as outside the home.

Hacker stealing data from a laptop (BrianAJackson)
BrianAJackson
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Who are they most worried about?

Doran said homegrown violent extremists continue to pose the most significant threat.

“These would be individuals who would be inspired by or self-radicalized online by foreign terrorist organizations or from domestic extremists.”

Doran stressed for the rest of this year “you still want to have a great holiday season, but we also know there are some bad people who want to do bad things at times, and it’s just to be conscious of what’s going on around you.”

She said that means if you see something weird, report it, and then it will be up to the authorities.

“It’s up to the law enforcement authorities to determine if that piece of information that you shared actually has some legs and there might be some bad things along with it.”

While some people may tune out the "stay vigilant"’ message, Doran said “the public is the first line of defense against terrorism," adding that the See Something Say Something campaign has netted a lot of valuable information.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

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NJ teachers and educators caught in sex crime busts

Over the past few years, state lawmakers have taken on the challenge of dealing with accused child predators among the ranks of teachers and educators.

In 2018, the so-called “pass the trash” law went into effect, requiring stricter New Jersey school background checks related to child abuse and sexual misconduct.

The follow individuals were arrested over the past several years. Some have been convicted and sentenced to prison, while others have accepted plea deals for probation.

Others cases are still pending, including some court delays amid the COVID-19 pandemic.