Policing in the era of terrorism
A popular sport among policing scholars is to identify and contemplate the significance of the various epochs of policing in the United States, and quibble over the dates. According to the usual discourse, we went from the 19th century Era of Inept and Corrupt Policing under the authority of ward bosses to the Progressive/Reform Era in the early part of the 20th century, then to the Professional Era in the mid-20th century and the Era of Community Policing at the end of the century. My standard classroom sermon has been that the Professional Era actually metamorphosed into the Era of Privatization during the 1970s and ’80s before Community Policing resurrected public policing. My new sermon is that on Sept. 11, 2001, we abruptly entered the Era of Terrorism.
Policing is suddenly different, markedly so, and we can be sure that it will remain substantially changed for the rest of our lives. The issues that occupied center stage prior to the terrorist attacks — community policing, drug policy and the decline in crime — have largely receded into the background. Police throughout the country, in cities, suburbs and even rural areas, have become preoccupied with the overwhelming twin burdens of finding terrorists in our midst and protecting a limitless array of vulnerable targets against subsequent attacks. Much of the time previously devoted to building metaphorical bridges to the community is now being spent protecting real ones from destruction. The decline in crime had pretty much bottomed out anyway, as the baby boom echo started to reverberate, and the more than 3,000 homicides that occurred on one day in September brought the decline to a cataclysmic end. Growing unrest in the Middle East, with no end in sight, only dims the prospects for a return to normalcy here at home...