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Has 9/11 Really Changed Policing?

January 16, 2002  | 

Although it seemed to many that the emphasis on homeland security since 9-11 changed everything, especially law enforcement, many police departments across the country say they have changed their priorities and assignments little if at all since Sept. 11. Several departments say they are ready to remove changes that had been made immediately after the terrorist attacks.

According to Sgt. Randy Force, a spokesman for the Phoenix police, the Phoenix PD is "repackaging" the jobs they were already doing as "homeland security."

Police departments in some major cities, particularly New York and Washington, have made major changes as a result of the attacks. And departments in numerous other cities were overwhelmed with bomb threats and reports of suspicious powder for a few weeks at the height of the anthrax scare in October.

But now, many departments are returning to business as usual, even though many mayors, to whom the departments report in most cities, are still intent on maintaining their cities' security.

"We definitely need to be more proactive," said Mayor John DeStefano of New Haven. "We need to take reasonable steps to protect our citizens, and the costs of being reactive pale when compared with the costs of being proactive." Mayor DeStefano is first vice president of the National League of Cities and part of a group of mayors scheduled to meet on Tuesday with Tom Ridge, director of homeland security, at the White House. A principal goal of their mission, officials from several cities said, will be to request more federal money.

Cameron Whitman, director of policy for the National League of Cities, said she understood the difference in opinion police and mayors.

"The pressures are different," Whitman said. "Mayors are elected officials who need to reassure their voters that they are concerned, and that their constituents are safe."

But she added: "The nub of the concern is that new national defense responsibilities have fallen on the cities. This is not a temporary thing. If responsibility is to be given to us for heightened security and heightened alerts, funding must be developed for these programs we have never had before."

Mayor Pat McCrory of Charlotte, N.C., said, "Every city is a home front, and we need to coordinate better with Washington and prioritize what we are doing." Mr. McCrory added that he did not want the mayors' entreaties to be viewed as "just a money grab."

In Indianapolis, Steve Robertson, director of the Emergency Management Division, said the mayor's office had ordered "a top-to-bottom review of the city's comprehensive emergency-management plan."

The Indianapolis police, he said, have instituted "subtle differences" since Sept. 11, "just to raise the comfort level." Among them are increased police staffing at certain government buildings. "But we look at terrorism as just another crime."

Bill Berger, chief of police in North Miami, is president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, and he explained that in the early days after the terrorist attacks, "generally there was a tremendous urgency to batten down the hatches — protecting entrances to government buildings, utility plants" and other potential targets. That was the first phase. The second phase, now, is improving intelligence gathering and coordination.

But some police agencies are now talking about pulling back from the first-phase changes. Sergeant Force of the Phoenix police said his department had increased staffing at many government agencies and utilities, but, he said: "We are in the process of examining what we can pull out of. There is some question whether we have to do all of this permanently. The phone company may not need so much protection."

One area of increased protection that has been instituted by many police departments since Sept. 11 is less likely to be reduced, officials said. The police are well aware of their mayors' concerns. The Police Department in Columbus, Ohio, was just one of many that dispatched more officers to guard city hall.

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