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Back to Archives | Back to February 2006 Contents 

Special Focus: Post-September 11 Policing in Suburban America

By Dennis M. Rees, Chief of Police, Loveland, Ohio

Photograph by Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA News Photo
Click here to visit the Post 9-11 Policing Projects Documents on the IACP Website

ince the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the entire law enforcement and emergency services sectors have had to review, and in some case redefine, their roles in their communi­ties and with other area agencies. We have a heightened responsibility to be more aware and to make decisions based on that aware­ness and the requisite training.

Police officers all over the United States go about their daily routines in much the same way they did five years ago (allowing, of course, for the changes brought about by ad­vances in technology). Police executives, man­agers, and supervisors continue to plan, orga­nize, and direct their agencies using the proven principles and practices of modern policing. So what really has changed? Is it conceptual, or is there real, concrete change visible to the naked eye of the average citizen?

The answer is that every police depart­ment, regardless of size, has assimilated certain nuances of change in a number of areas of daily activity from planning to op­erations. There are six distinct responsibili­ties that should be considered when re­viewing what has changed for police agencies and the cops on the beat.

  • Municipal infrastructure

  • Business, schools, manufacturing

  • Patrol strategies

  • Training

  • Interoperability and sharing

  • Information overload

In each category, changes have been re­quired for the management and administra­tion of law enforcement agencies, as well as operating procedures and public policies in carrying out the law enforcement and com­munity policing missions in the local com­munities. Although some changes are re­quired due to the heightened alert status from homeland security officials and other federal mandates, many are simply practical activities derived from the inherent respon­sibility as protectors of communities. Still others are driven by the changing missions of federal agencies like the FBI and the Secret Service, which require added responsibility for local law enforcement in counterfeit in­vestigations, bank robberies, and other crimes. So let's examine these responsibili­ties and determine just how the everyday activities have changed on the beat and in the offices of local law enforcement agencies.

Soon after the September 11 attacks, all counties, townships, and municipalities were required to complete a detailed as­sessment of their critical infrastructure. All utilities, power plants, bridges, water sup­plies, and so on are considered not only critical to the function of local government but also critical assets to entire areas serviced by them. Once the assessments were complete it became incumbent upon law en­forcement to meld the safety and security of identified infrastruc­ture into their operational plans. Myriad security techniques were employed, including enhanced video surveillance and directed patrols (specific duties assigned to regular patrol). The officer on the beat has to remain cognizant of specific locations and provide additional security along with regular patrol duties. No longer can the police officer assume the worker in the gas and electric company truck is working on reported problems. Patrol officers must remain familiar with utilities equipment and per­sonnel and take the time to stop and talk with these responders to ensure that they are, in fact, utilities employees completing company business.

Schools, Businesses, and Manufacturing
Patrol officers are very familiar with schools located on their beat or in their city. They typically know what businesses operate in their assigned areas and possess at least a modicum of informa­tion about manufacturing plants nearby. Since 2001 it has been recognized that just having a basic working knowledge of these is simply not good enough. More emphasis has been placed on knowing what is being manufactured in these plants and what materials are shipped in and out to facilitate these products. Po­lice officers must understand what impact these might have on the greater community if, for instance, an explosion occurred or a train carrying these products derailed.

In addition, officers must be familiar with the physical plants and understand their inherent vulnerabilities to criminals and terrorists. Police agencies have to become closer to the business community and know who owns and operates each location. It is necessary to be more cognizant of the vulnerabilities of the schools and ensure solid lockdown procedures are in place. It cannot be taken for granted that safety issues are fully addressed by the schools. Rather, the local police department needs to work closely with school security representatives and ensure that poli­cies and procedures are in place. And, if not, help them develop viable safety procedures. Shopping malls also present unique considerations for law enforcement and emergency service providers. Most shopping malls have private security on loca­tion. The police department needs to establish a liaison with mall security to ensure that they too have considered the post-September 11 threat in their policies and training.

Patrol Strategies
The luxury of patrolling one's beat in a military manner, ob­serving all and responding, reporting, and acting as needed is an outdated and simplistic view of police patrol. Community-orient-ed policing added a new dimension to beat patrol. Interaction with the community and residents in a problem-solving mode was a step up the ladder in protecting the communities.

Post-September 11 policing requires that local police continue to climb to ensure that communities are safe from not only crimi­nals but also terrorists. Police agencies have to continue to miti­gate the disruption of the criminal element while remaining aware of the more sophisticated threats posed to communities in post-September 11 America.

This is not about paranoia. It is about due diligence to the en­tire range of police services the new patrol officers must provide in their assigned areas. They can no longer just cross a bridge in their community to get to the other side and continue patrol. They must now ensure the safety of that bridge as critical infra­structure to the entire area. Schools, stadiums, shopping centers, and manufacturing plants must be viewed as targets for terror­ism, not just burglary. Patrol officers now consider more aspects of what facilities are located on their beat and are more diligent in how they inspect these assets.

Training for Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services
Police and fire agencies have long rec­ognized the importance of training and education in providing quality services to communities. Both professions have al­ways searched for management and su­pervisory courses to make their agencies more effective and investigative and ser-vice-oriented training and technological advances to stay on the cutting edge of the profession. The prospect of terrorism in the towns and townships has added a new dimension to the training considera­tions. A number of training opportunities have been offered from federal resources. In Anniston, Alabama, the U.S. Depart­ment of Homeland Security Center for Domestic Preparedness offers all-expens-es-paid training for first responders in weapons of mass destruction, critical inci­dent response, incident command, haz­ardous materials, and managing civil actions in threat incidents. In addition, training in bomb response, radiological and nuclear awareness, chemical and bio­logical integrated response is offered in Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas, fully sponsored with federal dollars, including travel to and from these sites.

Consistent in-service training activities and roll-call efforts, as well as directed pa­trols, assist in the development and ac­complishment of local strategies for homeland security. Patrol officers contin­ue to make their rounds in neighbor­hoods, schools, and business districts, but they have become more aware of public infrastructure and the possible threat from any terrorist activity. Even the move­ment of vehicles through the jurisdiction creates a thought process in the beat offi­cer about what those vehicles are carrying and the threat they could pose to the com­munities. Officers have become more aware of utilities employees and their trucks and equipment. It has always been the practice of good beat officers to know their patrol areas and to know when something is out of place. Now, they have had to redefine "out of place" to ensure that the elements of homeland security are a part of that daily assessment.

Sharing and Cooperation
Since the September 11 attacks, there has been an unprecedented effort to share in­formation among local, county, state, and federal agencies for the sake of homeland security. Only through a unified effort can a viable defense be mounted against an enemy that uses terror as its primary weapon and fear as the byproduct.

The Ohio Office of Criminal Justice (Ohio Homeland Security) has created a weekly report, with sometimes daily updates concerning happenings around the country of which police officers should be aware.

The Terrorism Early Warning Group (TEWG) is a regional effort with federal support and local participation. The TEWG provides intelligence reports and investigative activity based on requests from local agencies. Detailed information on a suspect can be obtained rather quick­ly when a situation occurs in a local com­munity. National resources are made available through the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to gather necessary information on a suspicious person in suspicious circumstances.

A Joint Terrorism Task Force has been organized for the purpose of combining the efforts of local, state, and federal agen­cies in documenting, investigating, and sharing information pertinent to the homeland security efforts of all. The FBI, the Secret Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Drug Enforce­ment Administration, Customs, the Ohio State Patrol, and county and local agen­cies are represented in this group and have been cooperating in a way that was previously unheard of to pool the re­sources of all in the joint effort of home­land security.

County and local police departments have rewritten and strengthened their mutual aid agreements and are more aware of agency assets that can be applied to homeland security efforts. Local readi­ness tabletop exercises have been re­placed with area and regional exercises and mock disaster drills. Area-wide com­munications have been enhanced with 800-megahertz systems and frequency sharing. Even police and fire are sharing information and communication chan­nels. Emergency services workers are more connected now than ever before. These efforts are strengthening homeland security across the United States.

Information Overland
A new and strange twist to this cooper­ation and sharing has created significant headaches for local agencies. Information overload on homeland security issues has created a new job description in smaller police agencies that have no legal section or research and planning section. Who is responsible for reading the deluge of in­formation flowing from federal, state, and county sources and determining what is pertinent and should be disseminated down the chain of command to the patrol and investigative supervisors and from them to the beat officer? Some informa­tion is time-sensitive, while other infor­mation is national and not of any regional value. It has become a question of not only what to act upon but also how to make time to read through the informa­tion and determine what course of action to take.

The Internet is a valuable tool, but it can be a huge deterrent to effective infor­mation exchange. All of a sudden every­body is an expert on homeland security. Hot news flashes from across the country make their way into local computer data­bases and into police squad rooms. The police can spend as much time chasing ru­mors and urban myths as they do study­ing quality research that has some mean­ing to local agencies.

The Department of Homeland Security continues to keep state and local authori­ties abreast of their efforts as much as prac­ticable. The FBI maintains an information flow through the TEWG to ensure that the national team is fully aware of pertinent in­formation. The Department of the Army sends a periodic Terrorism Intelligence Summary that typically exceeds 10 pages, from which information important to local agencies can be gleaned. Our e-mail sys­tem is clogged daily with myriad home­land security information that needs to be reviewed to ensure important information flows to the officer on the beat.

All of these well-intentioned efforts at information sharing have created a read and-review nightmare for local agencies. Somebody has to sift through all of this in­formation and determine what needs to be passed on for review or acted upon. Often this task falls upon the police chief, who is in a position to determine the need-to-know status of information. Many chiefs spend an hour a day accom­plishing this task, and then additional time and effort in the use of that which is determined to be pertinent. Policies, pro­cedures, operations orders, and so on can be affected by information flow. At the very least, the strategies and patrol tactics employed by officers on the beat continue to be affected by voluminous homeland security information.

The Practice of Practice
Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. In the interest of homeland security the U.S. law enforcement community has geared up a tremendous offense with the information sharing and cooperation of local, state, and federal agencies. Whereas the disaster wrought by Hurri­cane Katrina along the Gulf Coast ex­posed many weaknesses in the actual hands-on practice of cooperation, it also showed the strengths of cooperation when the politicians stepped aside. The lessons learned from Katrina will no doubt bolster the ability of federal, state, and local resources to work together in mitigating natural disasters or terrorist at­tacks. But it doesn't end with emergency services cooperation. Local efforts with community involvement such as Volun­teers in Police Service (VIPS), citizen po­lice and fire academies, and myriad com­munity policing efforts will help ensure that our homeland remains secure. It is the responsibility of the emergency ser­vice agencies to cooperate with one an­other and then take that cooperative effort to citizens, not only for their edification but also for their assistance. Just as it is the community that really determines its own level of safety, the United States will, in the end, demand and determine its own level of security.   ■



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 2, February 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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