2001 — a year in profile:
Life in law enforcement, before & after 9/11
Continued from Page 1
...”protect”. Things change when the battlefield is your own backyard or mail box and the enemy is somewhere in your midst. Information gleaned about the attackers clearly demonstrated to law enforcement just how invisible the enemy can be — hiding within plain sight, as it were, in many sections of the country.
Stretched to the max
Police worked long hours protecting airports and other transportation hubs, buildings, bridges, reservoirs, crops, nuclear power plants, government buildings and other facilities, often working closely with the National Guard and military reservists. Already facing an ambitious if not overwhelming national investigation, an additional and unnecessary burden came with the dramatic increases in the occurrence of hoaxes, both for bombs and anthrax. (In New York City in just one day, police dealt with more than 90 reports of suspicious packages and bomb threats.) Almost immediately, jurisdictions imposed harsher penalties on the hoaxers. When biological weapons were introduced into the mix, the nature of the hoaxes became even more complicated, requiring both a public health and a law enforcement response — a response that was not always well coordinated.
Overtime reached record-breaking levels in the course of an effort never before undertaken by the country’s law enforcement agencies — an effort that cannot be maintained indefinitely at such high levels of intensity. As the year ended, police found themselves stretched to the max. Increases in responsibilities of this magnitude do not come without a price. Just as the declining crime rate is beginning to plateau and even go up in some places, police are finding themselves faced with lots to do amid changing priorities.
To make matters worse, recruitment is still down and attrition is mounting in many departments, sometimes as a direct result of the overtime produced by the terrorist attacks. As the nation ratcheted up its military defenses, law enforcement agencies were hit by the call-up of military reservists thereby further depleting police ranks. Even before Sept. 11, policing wrestled with the serious problem of dwindling ranks, forcing departments to cast an ever-widening net for recruits. The temptation to lower standards, always a recipe for trouble, continued. A number of departments dropped or modified college requirements. Residency requirements received a second look and were often dropped.
While personnel shortages were bad and getting worse prior to Sept. 11, the almost overnight growth of jobs in federal law enforcement and private security also took their toll on local policing. More entry level and management positions became available in both fields, drawing growing numbers of seasoned personnel from local police ranks. As luck would have it, though, increased joblessness in other sectors of the economy may ultimately help to increase the ranks of the many police departments. Yet even if applications go up, it will have little immediate impact on the loss of supervisory personnel, a precarious situation sure to unfold in the near future.
Despite new and expanded responsibilities for police, there remains the job of handling routine crime-fighting activities and investigation. No one wants a return to the early 1990s, when crime in the United States peaked with more than 20,000 homicides. With some localities already seeing signs of crime-rate creep, there is the danger that the current set of overshadowing priorities will take time and personnel away from effective crime-reduction strategies and quality-of-life crime initiatives. Compounding the problem, the economic slowdown that occurred early in 2001 was already necessitating cuts in many departments well before Sept. 11. It is clear the future will not be easy.
But “help is on the way,” insists Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania who heads the new White House Office of Homeland Defense. The alerts announced by his office, while sensible, have yet to be translated into practical deployment issues on the ground and in the pocketbook. So far, the Sept. 11 attacks have cost $700 million in added public safety costs. Making war is costly and it became all too clear to many cities that federal money is urgently needed for the law enforcement effort at home. While Ridge has conceded that it could take months, even years, to build a truly viable homeland defense program, policing’s more immediate needs include help in protecting vulnerable targets, training, equipment and enhanced border control. Data bases need to be integrated, coordinated and, in some cases, built from scratch. But one of the most important elements of warfare, whether foreign or at home, is good and timely intelligence. The events of Sept. 11 magnified the urgent need for information on the local level and the need for enhanced coordination at the federal level. Law enforcement agencies nationwide desperately needed information. They didn’t always get it.
Learning to share
Law enforcement’s “dirty little secret” — that intelligence is not often shared — became household news and a matter of vital importance to the country’s homeland security. To be sure, the FBI had been having a bad year even before Sept. 11: Congressional oversight hearings; a pending reorganization; a document foul-up that forced a delay in the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and the discovery of an agent who had been spying for the Russians.
Many in New York law enforcement will recall the FBI’s attempt to discredit the ATF agent who had found the vehicle identification number — a crucial piece of evidence — from the truck involved in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, as a telling example of the bureau’s steamrolling over a major investigations. It certainly did not help the bureau’s image when it was learned in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks that FBI officials refused to approve a wiretap on the computer of Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker. After the attacks, numerous police officials bitterly complained that they were kept in the dark and not provided with enough information to adequately protect the public. At year’s end, relations between the bureau and local law enforcement had improved in some areas, but for the most part signs of strain were never far from the surface.
A different perspective on profiling
Although the tensions between local and federal law enforcement often ran high, it still came as a shock to many in policing when the Portland, Ore., Police Bureau and a handful of other departments announced that they would not assist in the efforts of federal agents to interview thousands of Middle Eastern subjects. Some viewed this action as nothing less than a dereliction of duty — a case of political correctness gone too far. After all, some maintain, while two cities were attacked, the operatives lived, trained and conspired in many regions of the country. Nationwide criminal investigations have always been part of police work and, despite rivalries, a fair amount of cooperation takes place regularly in law enforcement. Given the current threat level, inattention in one place can lead to devastation in another.
“It came as a shock when a handful of police departments announced they would not assist in federal efforts to interview thousands of Middle Eastern subjects. Was it a case of political correctness gone too far?”
Still, it is not surprising that racial profiling, which has dominated policing in the last few years, remains a sensitive topic even through this period of emergency. Prior to the attacks, departments across the country continued to be obsessed with counting stops by race and issuing policy directives. But just how valuable the numbers will be remains to be seen [see Page 11]. What did become clear during the year was that in the aftermath of a racially charged incident or some kind of accusation of racism, police engage in what is now known as “depolicing.” Arrests go down and crime goes up largely because officers simply do not want to put themselves in harm’s way. While it is easy for some to say that police should continue to do their work without regard for the media blitz that can envelop them, that would appear to be unrealistic.
The issue of racial profiling was transformed on Sept. 11. In the aftermath of the attacks, pollsters repeatedly asked the public about the issue of profiling — specifically as it applies to Middle Eastern men. Those queried have consistently responded that law enforcement should not ignore the obvious similarities among those who have been already identified in connection with the recent threats and attacks against this country. Solid majorities of respondents to two polls said they want Arab-looking travelers singled out for extra scrutiny at airports. Even in Detroit, which is home to a large Arab-American population, a local newspaper reported that 61 percent felt “extra questioning or inspections are justified.” One cannot ignore the fact that the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as other attacks against Americans here and abroad, were all committed by male Islamic militants of Middle Eastern descent. It would be foolish and potentially fatal to minimize the realities of this threat. As then-Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg stated in 1963, echoing the view of former Justice Robert Jackson, “while the Constitution protects against invasions of individual rights, it is not a suicide pact.”
May I see your papers, please?
The issue of identifying wrongdoers, now taking on new definition and urgency, was on the police agenda even before the attack. When Tampa used sophisticated facial-recognition surveillance during the Super Bowl, public opinion was accepting but cautious. In today’s environment, such systems have gained in popularity and are a welcome asset to a security system.
The year also brought a surge in the popularity of hand-held wireless devices that allow officers to quickly and unobtrusively check criminal data bases. Yet of all the issues of identification that arose in 2001, primary concern focused on the rapid identification of spores and microbes, and the growing problem of identity theft and fake IDs. Given the prevalence of fake identification throughout the country, a number of states began to improve the quality of their driver’s licenses in hopes of making them more difficult to counterfeit. One idea being given serious consideration in the aftermath of Sept. 11 is a high-tech national identification card for all American citizens. A variation of this theme is already being practiced at the Mexican border. A new “laser visa,” which among its features includes fingerprints and data encrypted in magnetic strips, is required of Mexicans who cross the 1,952-mile border.
The thorny issue of immigration and border control, long a concern to federal and local jurisdictions alike, also took on added dimensions after Sept. 11, as it became eminently clear that the government is clueless when it comes to accurate and up-to-date knowledge of non-citizens in the United States. Inadequate State Department and INS policies and procedures, a lack of enforcement and, to be sure, a lack of will gave the United States a border more porous than the mountains of Afghanistan.
Cooperation with the INS has been a mixed bag for local police. For some departments, illegal immigrants are often victims of crimes and in an effort to keep crime down, departments have refused to report illegal aliens to federal authorities. In some other localities, complaints to federal authorities about illegal aliens have tended to fall on deaf ears, so the locals think, “Why bother?” To address current concerns, the Justice Department has elected to split INS into two parts: one to provide service to immigrants and the other to patrol the nation’s borders to block the entry of terrorists. The attack on the homeland will no doubt influence future relations between local law enforcement and federal Immigration and State Department officials, particularly in terms of countries that overtly or covertly support violence against America.
In the post-9/11 era, though, reinforced borders and revised immigration policies might seem superfluous without an accompanying beef-up in air safety and security. The long-dormant Sky Marshal program was quickly revived. A new law enforcement entity was created with the federalization of airport passenger- and baggage-screening personnel, who have been the focus of increasing public outcry over repeated (and sometimes egregious) lapses of security. Planes large and small were scrutinized, as even low-flying crop dusters became a source of concern amid the growing specter of bioterrorism. AWACS surveillance planes, used overseas and in the Caribbean, now fly missions over sensitive targets in the U.S., and the rules of engagement have been changed for fighter pilots who might have to deal with another commercial jetliner being used in a terrorist attack.
A well known adage warns that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. In that context, consider that in 1993, when the World Trade Center was bombed the first time, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was ordered by Congress to track more than half a million foreign students attending colleges in the United States. At the time, civil libertarians successfully opposed this initiative, along with other measures intended to keep America safe. Since then, Palestinian terrorists have been arrested in Brooklyn for conspiring to set off a bomb in the New York City subway system. Plots were thwarted to bomb the Los Angeles airport and the Space Needle in Seattle on the eve of the millennium. Then came Sept. 11 and, predictably, civil libertarians once again rose up in righteous indignation. Their arguments revolve around the idea that it is inappropriate to closely look at the many in order to catch the few. Should they prevail again, the consequences could be mean death and injury to thousands. After all, it took only 19 hijackers to kill more than 3,000. It is unfathomable what 500 or 1,000 terrorists on American soil could do.
What a difference a year makes
It’s hard to believe that just 12 months ago crime was down, public safety was not atop the public agenda, the economy was relatively good and the country was at peace. How things change. The police role as first responders, for instance, now means dealing with the terrifying possibility of biological and nuclear weapons. Law enforcement enters 2002 facing a new world with a new and unconventional enemy posing threats that must be anticipated and prevented. By some estimates, more than 50,000 people have passed through the Al Qaeda terrorist training camps. The terrorist network reportedly operates in 60 countries, and no doubt some of its operatives are still living here. Many experts believe a wave of terrorist acts is likely in the near future. In the months ahead, routine will reassert itself in many parts of the country, and law enforcement’s daily tasks will dominate the day. But as time goes by, it will be important to bear in mind that — for police as well as for the military — the war on terrorism can be won through good intelligence and vigilance, just as it can be lost through complacency and naiveté.