LEN salutes its 2001 People of the Year:
When there's no cop in sight
Heroes aboard Flight 93 exemplify a new standard
for citizen involvement in the fight against terrorism
By Jennifer Nislow
“The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen….”
— Sir Robert Peel
This axiom, one of nine principles enunciated by the father of modern policing, could scarcely have been brought to life in a more brutal and dramatic fashion than it was on Sept. 11 in the skies over western Pennsylvania. It was there, with police help literally miles away in any direction, and armed with only their own courage, that a group of 40 ordinary citizens — the passengers and crew aboard a hijacked Boeing 757 — took matters into their own hands, vowing to go down fighting and thwarting a plot to crash the plane into a prominent U.S. landmark, quite possibly the White House or the Capitol.
The extraordinary events of Sept. 11 and its aftermath brought forth many heroes — rescue workers, police, firefighters and the military, among countless others. It was perhaps inevitable that the selection of the Law Enforcement News People of the Year would in some way tie in to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but the question of “who?” seemed nearly unanswerable. After all, so many did so much, and gave so much of themselves. Law Enforcement News, for its part, has long tried to honor with its People of the Year award those whose efforts or actions have had, or are likely to have, a broad and tangible impact on the field of policing.
It was in that light, then, and after considerable soul-searching, that LEN decided this year to honor the passengers andcrew of United Airlines Flight 93 as our People of the Year for 2001 — not simply for the stance they took in a desperate situation, extraordinarily courageous though it was, but as importantly, because they serve as standard bearers of a new and direct citizen engagement in fighting terrorism.
“In some ways, it’s a paradigm of informed citizen behavior,” said Arlington County, Va., Police Chief Edward A. Flynn, whose own jurisdiction was a focus of the terrorists’ plans on 9/11, with their attack on the Pentagon. “Because of cell phone technology, the passengers knew they were on a suicide mission and armed with that information, they took direct action to save lives.
“One of the things the police profession has been slow to realize over the past couple of decades is just what citizens are capable of doing on behalf of the community when they do have sufficient information to act,” Flynn told Law Enforcement News. “In some ways, what happened on the airplane was kind of a microcosm of citizen action on behalf of public safety.”
The people aboard Flight 93 were very nearly a cross-section of American demographics. Twenty men and 20 women. Whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians. College students and retirees. Government workers and the self-employed. CEOs and attorneys, white-collar and blue-collar workers. The recently married and the long-widowed. Even a former police detective and a licensed civilian pilot. One common thread that linked them was that while the horror of the terrorist attacks was first unfolding in New York and Washington, D.C., those aboard the United flight were still largely unaware of the havoc below. More importantly, when they became aware of the seismic events of that morning, they were united by their determination to end matters on their terms, not the hijackers’.
The takeover of the plane is believed to have started at about 9:25 a.m., when four passengers in first class, Ziad Samir Jarrah, Ahmed Al Nami, Ahmed Al Haznawi and Saeed Al Ghamdi, stood up and tied red bandannas around their heads. Jarrah, the group’s leader, had lived in Germany where investigators believe he met Mohamed Atta, the reputed ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks. In a letter to his girlfriend there, Jarrah wrote: “I have done what I had to do. You should be proud, because it is an honor and in the end you will see that everyone will be happy.”
2001: A year in profile
Life in law enforcement, before and after 9/11
By Marie Simonetti Rosen
It took only 78 minutes on the morning of Sept. 11 to alter the very nature of law enforcement in this country. At 8:48 a.m. on a beautiful, late-summer morning, an act of war occurred on American soil. It was unthinkable, shocking, horrific.
Foreign invaders — Islamic militants who apparently had been in this country for some time — had hijacked commercial jetliners and turned them into guided missiles to strike the World Trade New York City and the Pentagon. A third target was avoided only by the courageous acts of American civilians. The death toll was unimaginable, the repercussions both enormous and ongoing. These attackers made good on past threats — threats that, in retrospect, had not been taken seriously.
In the hours after the attacks, the country, caught napping, began preparing for war at home and abroad. Nearly everything stopped. Transportation ground to a halt. Businesses shut down. The borders were sealed. Even crime dropped in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The country was in a self-imposed lockdown. The military began to mobilize and appear en masse. And as if that weren’t enough, just one week later a chain of events began at a New Jersey post office that would ultimately point to a new threat — biological weapons. The threat, in the form of letters that were later found to contain anthrax spores, seemed to be aimed primarily against Congress and the news media, and would eventually leave five people dead, 18 others infected and thousands obtaining antibiotics for protection.
America became a country transformed in 2001. A confident nation had been made painfully aware of its vulnerabilities, of which there were many. While just about every segment of society was touched in some way by the attack on Sept. 11, the country’s law enforcement community was changed almost overnight. Its mission was fundamentally recast.
A change in emphasis
“To protect and serve” is a catch phrase at the heart of American policing. The words are found in mottoes, mission statements, painted on patrol cars, sewn into insignias, and would seem to embody the feelings of most police personnel. In retrospect, though, it appears that police have long had the luxury of being able to concentrate on the “serve” portion of that motto. That’s not to say that police haven’t had their dealings with truly bad people — organized crime figures, street gangs, serial killers, child killers, mass murderers, even terrorists. Nevertheless, with the advent of community policing more than two decades ago, police over time have been able to improve service for their communities by solving problems. They have been able to deal with quality-of-life crime and have had a significant impact on bringing down the crime rate. Agencies have even had the time to go into cold cases.
On Sept. 11, however, the emphasis in the phrase “to protect and serve” suddenly switched to the word...