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Cover Story

9/11: 10 Years After

The attacks of 9/11 not only changed America, they challenged and changed American law enforcement.

September 01, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Photo: iStockphoto.com.
Photo: iStockphoto.com.

According to Narkevicius, intelligence sharing has improved, but standardized protocols continue to be a challenge.

"In the military, we have classified data that's marked confidential, secret, or top secret, that's controlled for our intelligence channels. The problem with sharing intel with law enforcement is that "law enforcement sensitive" doesn't really map to our classified scales, so we couldn't always distribute data," he says. "But now that they've put in the unified intelligence centers, the military has actually been sharing more of that data with law enforcement. The Border Patrol has access to sensors and things that previously were military-only, and we can get that data to the people who can actually respond to it. So that's been very beneficial."

To build on data collection techniques that have been utilized for years by local law enforcement, the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative provides another clearinghouse for reporting and sharing information about suspicious activities by people within the United States.

Finding the Money

Law enforcement has traditionally relied on a hierarchical availability of funding for its activities. If the local government did not provide funding, limited resources may have been available at the state or federal levels. In the post-9/11 era, law enforcement agencies at all levels have learned to navigate the vast ocean of funding possibilities made possible by federal and state legislation.

Through the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a number of programs have been developed during the past decade to funnel much-needed federal money to state and local agencies. Billions of dollars have been provided to law enforcement agencies through programs with names like the State Homeland Security Program, the Urban Areas Security Initiative, the Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program, and the Port Security Grant Program. While such funding has availed agencies the means to develop homeland security capabilities, dozens of other funding opportunities have also allowed for the procurements of specialized equipment, tactical and anti-terrorism training, enhanced local and regional SWAT teams, enhanced border control efforts, improved protection of transit systems, improved crisis response and emergency assistance, enhanced cybersecurity systems, and bolstered community policing programs. The sheer volume of grant opportunities available is dizzying.

In order to understand and respond to the influx of grants, agencies have had to develop expertise in not only grant proposal writing and submission, but in long-term reporting and management of the grants they receive.

Sid Heal, nationally recognized weapons expert and a retired commander from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, recalls the influx of counter-terrorism and homeland security funds in the early years following 9/11.

"Things that we'd been wanting for years all of a sudden became available," Heal says. "Things that were literally science fiction to us-in many cases, things that were already being used by the military-all of a sudden had a market in law enforcement because we had grant money to buy them."

The current trend in federal granting for homeland security has been to provide smaller grants for more focused purposes. As a result, agencies may have a more difficult time finding the right grant opportunity to meet their needs. Heal believes that law enforcement agencies will find a way around this problem.

"One of the byproducts that we see coming down the line here is that a lot of this stuff that was bought up by the tens of thousands will be military surplus in a year or two, and we'll be able to get them for less," Heal adds. "So even departments that didn't have a lot of money will be able to get things they'd only dreamed about."

Armed with specialized tools with which to fight terrorism, law enforcement agencies have had to develop equally specialized expertise in the use and training of this enhanced equipment. From biometric monitoring used at airports and ports of entry to ground- and air-based sensors used by border patrols, law enforcement personnel have unprecedented opportunities to engage in advanced training.

Working Hand in Hand

Another change in law enforcement post 9/11 is that agencies are more willing to develop regional mutual aid programs. Neighboring local agencies that had previously complained about the lack of coordination when responding to crimes at their jurisdictional borders have since realized the need for greater communication and coordination in dealing with potential terrorist acts.

Heal explains that perhaps the biggest challenge in bringing disparate agencies together has been the evolution of the National Incident Management System. "There's roughly 17,800 local law enforcement agencies in the United States. Every single one of them is autonomous. That means they can buy whatever they want to buy and use it in whatever manner. There are no standards, and in many cases there are not a lot of protocols, so you can be right next door to a neighboring jurisdiction and not be able to talk to them. The ideal from the federal government has been [to develop] patches and bridges and ways that allow everybody to do their own thing and simply be able to connect them as we need them," he says.

To facilitate the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information among agencies, DHS established a series of regional fusion centers. Typically operated by state agencies with support from local and federal personnel, each agency brings its own areas of expertise to the table to share with regional partners. Fusion centers have the added advantage of targeting terrorist threats that are specific to that region. There are now more than 70 fusion centers located in every state across the nation.

It has taken every bit of the past decade to pull all of the nation's law enforcement resources together in its fight against terrorism. The good intentions of Congress, the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies during the early years following 9/11 were compromised by indecision and the enormity of the task at hand. After several years of dedicated work by countless individuals and organizations, the promise of a unified law enforcement approach to counter-terrorism is starting to take shape.

The success of domestic and international law enforcement partnerships to foil at least 39 terror plots since 9/11 is one indicator that things are moving in the right direction, but much work remains to be done.

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Tags: 9/11, FBI, First Responders


Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Jonathan Cherney @ 9/11/2011 6:41 AM

Excellent story. We must remember that our law enforcement are the "sheep dogs" of society and must operate in a manner that may occassionally offend or inconvienence the public. We have spent way too much time in law enforcement attempting to "soften" the publics opinion of us, which in many cases has decreased our ability to respond effectively our of fear that law enforcement will be deemed "too aggressive". Every large gathering of citizens is a potential target for terrorism and law enforcement should always have the equipement and manpower to deter such attacks. I would feel much more secure to see an officer armed to the gills patroling our airports, malls, sporting events, etc..., then the alternative of see no evil, hear no evil.

Jim Freeman @ 9/11/2011 10:27 AM

Since When Did First Responders Become the Bad Guys?
Jim Freeman, Freeman Public Affairs

Ten years ago on September 11, first responders were our national heroes. They rushed into New York’s burning towers and the nation’s nerve center for military defense. They saved lives without concern for their own and they suffered terrible losses. They brought order to chaos and let us know that someone had our backs, even in the worst of times.

Since that horrific day, many of our country’s first responders have served with the National Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have protected us against domestic attacks from foreign and homegrown terrorists. They continuously put their lives on the line for natural disasters, and on a daily basis, they face flames and bullets, arrest thugs, rescue fire victims, save lives in ambulances, find lost children and keep us safe.

More than ever after 9/11, support from police and fire was sought by every politician even thinking of running for office. No more. Not now. Our first responders are being blamed by extremists for everything from the political mismanagement of cities to budget deficits nationwide. It doesn’t matter that police and fire protected us during good times, paying into their own pensions, keeping cities and states flush with these retirement funds. It’s of no consequence that since the recession, they’ve made concession after concession in the spirit of shared sacrifice. These facts have all been lost amid threats to their very existence. Who needs community police and fire when we can privatize and outsource, when we can make numbers look better on a balance sheet and reward political contributors? Emergency dispatchers from India and mercenaries from Blackwater could do the same job more efficiently and surely for less.

AusFost1 @ 9/11/2011 5:35 PM

Thoughts are with you, USA, on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. It's humbling to watch your nation come closer together than ever before on this day. And comforting to think of those perpetrators burning in hell for a full ten years so far.

Rick @ 9/12/2011 9:13 AM

It's shameful that the Flt. 93 memorial was designed to be a crescent and has other muslim designs incorporated into it; the crescent even points towards Mecca. I remember the controversey surrounding the OK City Bombing and how there was a third conspirator, a middle eastern looking man, that was never brought to justice. I recently visited the OKC memorial and when I got home, I looked at it on Google Earth. There is a crescent there surrounding the Survivor's Tree that points towards Mecca. Coincidence??

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