Local Police Response to Terrorism
Terrorism has the unique ability to happen anywhere and everywhere. It can be unpredictable to some people while being completely planned out by others. From the moment a terrorist group even considers an attack, counter terrorism responders need also to be prepared and ready. Typically, citizens see terrorist attacks at the large scale affecting the public as one. Worldwide patterns show that some areas are prone for attacks, while others are peaceful, maybe due to the different ideologies the areas stand for and resources available. Terrorists aim to destroy; they thus target regions with plenty of physical and human resources. Therefore, it’s also very normal for the local agencies and local government to take part in the response of terrorism attacks. This does not take away from the response efforts that are given by large government agencies on the federal level, but it does increase the value of having strong local police responders to all terrorist incidents regardless of the severity. Terrorism is most serious threat against not only the United States national security but all the United States’ allies. More and more terrorist groups have advanced their training and skills proving them to be harder to detect for counter terrorism forces including federal and local responders. Since terrorist groups are becoming more advanced and more technical then they were a decade before it has left local police agencies with the need to upgrade their capabilities in order to be able to assist federal agencies to counter terrorism. Local law enforcement is incredibly important in community policing and if they are to be a critical component in the fight against terrorism, federal and state agencies will need to find a common ground in order to work together to solve the bigger problem we are all facing today.
The Local Response
Law enforcement officers, whether they are on a local level, state level, or federal level, are all challenged daily to better themselves so they can be better role models to the community and as well as within their community. They can do this is by achieving full control of different situations and working to mitigate the problems the communities encounter including terrorist activity. Police officers should also work on developing their character, sharpen their skills, and learn to implement what they learn in societal settings to achieve their goal of orderly and safe environments, and better themselves as part of the community. This in turn will dwindle down into the community and help sharpen the citizens within that community as well. While federal government oversees the nation, almost 90% of the United States is made up of local law enforcement; otherwise known as police stations. This includes city police stations, state sheriffs, and even local national guard and reserves. In cities like New York, where the population reaches well over 250,000 people police organizations become very structured and complex in its organization. “There are 66 state-level law enforcement agencies in the United States designated as state police, highway patrol, or state investigative departments. Most state police organizations were created between 1900 and 1930 and were primarily deigned to suppress the organization of labor unions. Hawaii is the only state that does not have a state-wide police organization. Most of these statewide agencies have both traffic and criminal investigation responsibilities,” (Potter, 2013). State level law enforcement have become more involved in the response efforts towards anti-terrorism. International terrorism is not something that local police departments typically focus their training on countering terrorist activities, however in recent history the demand for more local training has certainly increased.
Since local police departments usual concentration is combating local crime and regulating local laws the only way to include preparing for terrorist activity and attacks was for police departments to enhance their overall training. Overall safety for communities will always remain a core quality of local law enforcement, however, after the attacks on September 11, 2001 a priority needed to change for all law enforcement. “In the event of a terrorist attack, police officers would be among the first emergency workers on the scene: on September 11, thousands of New York City police officers rushed to the World Trade Center, and twenty-three were killed when the towers collapsed,” (Council on Foreign Relations, 2003). Places like New York City who have seen firsthand what terrorists can do have implemented a counterterrorism division within their police force that allows a more hands on approach towards terrorism rather then it being something else they need to look out for.
Many times, local law enforcement agencies use the assistance from agencies such as the FBI, ATF, and or Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF). The intelligence information that is distributed down to the local law enforcement is verified and detailed to specific threats in that area; domestic terrorism. It is an added benefit when local law enforcement works with Joint Terrorism Task Forces because they can bring federal, state, and local agencies together on one team, allowing members to leverage one another’s skills, authorities, and accesses to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks across the country.
Intelligence gathering at incidents from local responders is critical in determining if the incident itself is an act of terrorism in the first place. Before training had to increase for local police departments knowing the difference between an act of terrorism and an act of violence would have been a little harder to determine. There are two terms used to describe illegal acts against society which encompass, people, places and things. “International terrorism: Perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with designated foreign terrorist organizations or nations (state-sponsored). Domestic terrorism: Perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature (FBI.gov, 2019). It is important for local law enforcement to understand these terms; however, their application will come more towards the federal level. Local law enforcement should be more considerate towards what types of targets are within their jurisdiction.
In the eyes of a terrorist there are potentially two kinds of targets: hard targets or soft targets. According to the Terrorist Recognition Handbook a hard target is defined as “people, structures, or locations that are security conscious and difficult to attack successfully.” While they also define a soft target as “people, structures, or locations that usually have less security or are open to the public,” (Nance, 2014, p.92). When the local police force has a good grasp of the type of targets, they are around they can then better understand their position towards terrorism response. Fast advancements in technology and innovation continue to create new challenges in security as terrorist groups too are acquiring this knowledge and may radicalize local citizens and sympathizers thus creating the need for more intellectual capacity (Dawson et al., 2016).
The Environmental Protection Agency states, “Local emergency committee shall include, at minimum, representative from each of the following groups or organizations: elected State and local officials; law enforcement, civil defense, firefighting, first aid, health local environmental, hospital, and transportation personnel; broadcast and print media, community groups; and owners and operators of facilities subject to requirements of subchapter EPCRA sections (42 USC 1101),” (WWW.epa.gov, 2016). These agencies are required to have frequent meetings and briefings to not only pass on information but also get a good understand and training on what possible attacks would look like. It’s important for local law enforcement to communicate not only to each other and other agencies but also, it’s community that if they see or hear something suspicious, they need to say something. In July of 2010, the Department of Homeland Security started the campaign “If You See Something, Say Something” with the U.S. Department of Justice\’s Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting
Initiative (NSI), with the goal of training state and local law enforcement to recognize behaviors and indicators of terrorism and terrorism–related crime (About the Campaign, 2019). This allows not only the local law enforcement to become more aware of possible terrorist activity, but also engages the community into interactive safety. This ties in with St. Leo’s core value of community by keeping the unity together within a community. Not solely relying on law enforcement on a federal level but entrusting the abilities of both local law enforcement as well as the people within that community to respond to an incident in some way.
The National Incident Management System breaks down the structure of local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement during times of incidents. These incidents can range from natural disasters or man-made disasters like terrorism attacks. Local response efforts are critical during these times of incidents. For instance, the amount of police officers and fire departments, and emergency responders that responded during the attacks on September 11, 2001 was immensely high. In fact, responders from sister cities and communities came in to help. “The director of the state emergency management agency works directly with the governor to ensure coordination among state agencies and effective allocation of response resources to local governments needing assistance,” (Walsh, et al., 2012, p.165). Since each town or community has an emergency response agency, they can aid in the assistance towards terrorism response. This begins with the incident action plan. Every local law enforcement as well as the emergency responders need to have a comprehensive action plan that includes all the different phases of an incident. These are suitable to change, but the basics should always be covered.
Federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, FBI, CIA, etc. lack one very important trait. They are not directly involved with the everyday lifestyles of a community. They have no means to as they are working on a higher level. This leaves us to question just how effective a local response team can and will be in the response to a terrorist attack. A local level law enforcement does not only work on combating local crime, but their overall mission is to ensure safety. With the increase in terrorism coming in all shapes and forms local law enforcement has had to take a bigger role in combating and preparing for terrorism as well. It is not something anyone wants to imagine, but training and preparing as if the next terrorist attack were to happen tomorrow is incredibly important. Now more then ever local authorities play a huge role. Whether this is intelligence gathering in anticipation for an attack, or the response to an already made attack local law enforcement is substitutable.