Lobby to Invest in Infrastructure

Law enforcement agencies, like other government agencies or private sector groups, lobby for funding and power from political authorities. Comparatively little effort has gone into ensuring that the infrastructure that allows us to enforce the law and to lead civilized lives stays in good shape.

Law enforcement agencies, like other government agencies or private sector groups, lobby for funding and power from political authorities. In many cases, this lobbying consists of bread-and-butter issues such as money for new patrol cars, new equipment, more recruits, new training, etc. Agency lobbying also goes to create and influence legislation deemed beneficial to law enforcement, or to kill legislation that is deemed detrimental to law enforcement. Comparatively little effort has gone into ensuring that the infrastructure that allows us to enforce the law and to lead civilized lives stays in good shape.

Sit back and do a thought experiment: Here you are, about to go in service. Your patrol car has a full tank of gasoline. Your sidearm, patrol rifle, and patrol shotgun are all locked and loaded. Your radio allows you to call for backup or check a suspect's ID whenever you need to. You can even check someone's breath for alcohol consumption in the field. During your lunch break, you can stop anywhere you want and get a meal.

All of this is thanks to energy: the energy required to manufacture your weapons, patrol car, radio, and other technology; the energy used to pump, filter, and distribute the water you drink and the water which is used for everything from growing food to washing your clothes; the gasoline refined from crude oil and distributed to private and government consumers to be used for everything from powering your patrol car to delivering the food you eat...and this is just scratching the surface. Richard Heinberg's book The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies hammers this point home in much greater detail.

Have you thought about what you would do if the infrastructure supplying all of this is disrupted? For example, consider what might happen if the supply of crude oil is disrupted, either through natural disaster, sabotage, or embargo. This means limited or no gasoline for your patrol car and your personal vehicle. How will you go out on patrol? Will you go on foot patrol or bicycle patrol in a major city? Can your agency bring back horses on short notice?

Next, consider what might happen if the water supply is sabotaged or disrupted. No water for cooking, for washing your clothes, for sewage disposal, and most importantly, none to drink! The human body can go a lot longer without food than without water. No water means a slow and unpleasant death.

Last, let's look at electricity interruption or the mass disruption of electronics. No computer, no Internet, no radio, no lights, no refrigeration of food, no air conditioning. Anyone who wants to go back to the 18th century, please raise your hands.

History has some examples of such disruptions. The 1973 OPEC embargo caused major increases in oil prices and long lines at gasoline stations. The 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor could have been much worse had the Japanese Navy pilots ignored those obsolescent battleships and concentrated on destroying the oil tanks which housed the oil reserves of the Pacific Fleet. With those gone, the Pacific Fleet would not have been able to go anywhere, and the Japanese would have had the free hand they wanted in Southeast Asia. In 1859, a powerful solar storm known as the Carrington Event wrecked telegraph equipment. A similar effect can be obtained by detonating a nuclear weapon at high altitude; this is known as an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack. The 1859 solar storm caused little damage because society was not dependent on electronics the way that it is today. A similar solar storm or EMP attack today could wreak havoc, as the 2001 Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack made clear in its report here. An EMP attack would wreck anything electronic: cars, computers, radios, etc. if they are not shielded in a Faraday cage.

Now consider what the people in your area of responsibility might do if there is a major disruption of this infrastructure. Most people are not prepared for an emergency. The federal government's advertising program, Ready.gov, to encourage emergency preparation is a start, but let's be honest: personal preparedness is not as forcefully advertised as movies, TV programs, and consumer products are. Hence, there is little public awareness about the vulnerability of our infrastructure or the need to be prepared. With no food, no water, no electricity, no communications, and no clue what to do, people are very likely to start looting and killing for survival, or to settle scores, or just for laughs. This happened in New York City on July 13-14, 1977, during a blackout caused by lightning strikes. Guess who's responsible for restoring order in such a situation. That's right: you and your agency.

Most law enforcement agencies are prepared to handle a riot. But do we in law enforcement really want to? A riot is no joke. It means injured or killed personnel, uses of force that the media will second-guess to death, wrecked property, and a big bill afterward. We need law enforcement leaders to work together to demand that infrastructure maintenance and survivability be taken much more seriously. For example, have law enforcement leaders ever explained to our political leaders that congested and poorly maintained roads make it difficult to respond to service calls? Improved mass transit, to include subways, light rails, more buses, and encouraging the growth of car-sharing services (instead of discouraging them, as Los Angeles and other cities have done) would go a long ways to reducing the congestion that law enforcement personnel must sometimes fight through to get to service calls. Well-maintained roads are also important; who wants to dodge potholes or squint at faded road markings while driving Code 3, or driving normally for that matter?

With respect to energy, it's time for law enforcement leaders to ask our political leaders why they allowed the national electrical grid to become so dilapidated that a combination of software problems and untrimmed tree branches knocked out power to 55 million people across the eastern areas of Canada and the United States in 2003. It's time for law enforcement leaders to ask our political leaders why the U.S. Department of Energy allocated a mere $50 million per year to develop fuel efficient vehicles at a time when high gasoline prices are a drain on law enforcement budgets, while the war in Iraq was costing, by one estimate, $720 million per day in 2007. Why should foreign adventures be more important than good infrastructure at home?

The lobbying I've described so far is about major policy initiatives to be undertaken by the federal and state governments. It's also important for law enforcement agencies to find ways to reduce their own dependence on the fragile infrastructure of this country, and to ask their leaders to spend money on these improvements. For example, Major Travis Yates of the Travis (Okla.) Police Department described common-sense ideas such as proper vehicle maintenance, safe driving, avoiding engine idling, and more as a way to cut high gasoline costs. Some law enforcement agencies are using hybrid vehicles for non-patrol functions.

With respect to buildings, renovations such as better insulation and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) or light emitting diodes (LEDs) can lower heating, cooling, and illumination costs. The book Reinventing Fire, published by the Rocky Mountain Institute, goes into much greater detail about renovating buildings. Each agency has different issues, and operational and security requirements must always come first, but we should do what we can to make our agencies' vehicles and property less wasteful of the resources that we depend on. This will save money in good times. More importantly, being able to use less resources will buy time for an agency dealing with the aftermath of a disaster, which may include supply disruptions of all types. Furthermore, at a time when many people dislike law enforcement, agency leaders are advised to consider the public relations value of saving money and going green.

In short, we in law enforcement must consider good infrastructure to be just as important as getting new patrol cars, recruiting personnel, having more arrest powers, and other traditional law enforcement concerns. Without good infrastructure, we can't do our jobs very well, or at all. Without good infrastructure, we may face major civil unrest. While law enforcement must obey the directions of political leaders, there's nothing at all wrong with using the legislative units in agencies, or professional associations such as the Fraternal Order of Police, to ask our leaders to address this matter. There is also nothing wrong with individual officers contacting their political representatives. We are free citizens in a free country; let's use that freedom to make our concerns known. Many political leaders want to be endorsed by police unions and professional associations. Let's let these leaders know that paying attention to infrastructure concerns is one way to earn that endorsement. Remember, none of us want to deal with a riot, and none of us want the electricity, the water, or the gasoline to stop flowing.

Michael Jabbra is a Security Assistant with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. He welcomes comments at mpjabbra@lasd.org.

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