The September 9/11 terrorist attacks exposed the United States’ vulnerability to terrorist attacks. It exposed various loopholes within the national security system that terrorists could exploit to commit atrocious acts that would greatly harm the country (Enders & Sandler, 2005). More than 3000 people died in this terrorist attack, and an even greater number suffered severe injuries. The attacks showed the need for a review of the nation’s security structures and systems and the importance of emergency and disaster preparedness. Even more important, the attacks revealed the need for combined efforts when it came to the prevention and response to terrorism. It showed that when it comes to matters of terrorism, there is a huge need for combined efforts between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. If the country was to fully protect itself from such incidents in the future or adequately respond to them if they ever occurred, trusted partnerships between the local, state and federal local agencies needed to be established (Henry, 2002). While the federal government has since this attack invested a lot in terrorism response and prevention, a huge degree of responsibility for terrorist threats response lies at the local level (Henry, 2002). Experience has shown that in the event of a terrorist attack, the first responders are inadvertently likely to be the local police personnel, as well as the local fire and rescue service. This was exemplified at the 9.11 attacks where the local police and the fire and rescue service were the first to arrive at the scene. However, inadequate resources, knowledge and strategies culminated in the loss of about 60 lives from this first group of responders. This paper aims to explore the role and functions of the local personnel, particularly the local police in responding to terrorism. Particular emphasis will be given to the state of Virginia.
There is no doubt that local governments and police need to be adequately prepared to respond to various acts of terrorism. Local governments must be equipped with adequate capabilities to deal with all kinds of terrorist attacks, from those that involve weapons of mass destruction, to chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological terrorist attacks (Ortiz et al., , 2007).
With increased responsibility on the shoulders of local police agencies, there is a great need to ensure that these local police agencies have adequate training that ensures that they have the necessary tools that are required for effective response (Enders & Sandler, 2005).. There are particularly some key areas that the local police need to be properly trained on when it comes to matters of terrorism response and prevention. These include the conduction of threat assessment, the identification of individuals who may be potentially involved in terrorism, technology and information management (Pelfrey, 2005).
The latter is particularly very crucial because when fully adopted, it can go a long way in helping to alleviate terrorist related problems as well as aid local responsive measures. There is a need for the development of technology to assists both interoperability, as well as information sharing (Pelfrey, 2005). This need was accentuated once again after the events of 9/11. Communication interoperability refers to the compatibility of different information and data systems and the capability of information flow to take place. For local police agencies to respond adequately to terrorist activities, there is a need for communication interoperability between them and also with the local communities that they serve (Ortiz et al., 2007). Interoperability should be a primary occurrence at the local level between different local law enforcement agencies, emergency services, for example fire and rescue, regional task forces, other levels of government and even more importantly the local community. Local agencies have to be conscious of their ability (or perhaps inability) to synchronize and share information with other agencies when the situation at hand warrants it.
As mentioned, there is an even greater need for the local police to be well acquainted with the immediate community and to institute active collaborations with this community.
In the event of a terrorist attack, the local police play a crucial role in the collection and gathering of information related to suspects in order to avert another incident. Many local police officers have vital knowledge about the people who live in the immediate community. This is partly because members of the local community tend to feel more comfortable communicating with local officers as opposed to officers, for example from the federal level (Ortiz et al., 2007). Local police departments, therefore, tend to be in receipt of priceless information on the immediate communities that they are trying to serve. It is this information that greatly aids in the prevention and response to terrorism activities and in many instances, federal agencies usually have a hard time collecting such information (Henry, 2002). This shows the great importance that local agencies, especially local police agencies play in responding or even preventing terrorism (Henry, 2002).
As mentioned earlier, technology is an invaluable tool when it comes to assisting law enforcement agencies to respond to terrorism. Technology generally assists local law enforcement agencies in mitigating terrorist threat and activities by relaying consistent and timely information to members the community. Community coordination is extremely vital, not just during the course of the immediate emergency but as well as in the follow-up periods where it enables communication to be made with the community on various aspects, for instance evacuation plans as well as asking members of the community who may have information related to the terrorist activity to present the information if they think it may be of help (Ortiz et al., 2007). Some local law enforcement agencies have, for instance, introduced neighborhood notification systems whereby information related to terrorism is relayed to the public within a very short time.
One reasonable question that is sometimes asked in relation to the local police and terrorism is whether they should bear responsibility for criminal acts that are considerably larger than their jurisdiction. Terrorism is one of these acts, and its aim is usually to have a national political effect and not just an effect on a city, town or a county. Many jurisdictions currently still see the prevention and response to terrorism as a primary responsibility of the federal government (Ortiz et al., 2007).
However, the roles of police have evolved over the years, and, therefore, the important contribution, role and responsibility of local police officer in responding to criminal activities should not be questioned. Although the federal and state agencies are charged with implementation of defense procedures at the state and national level, this does not mean that local law enforcement agencies input into the process signifies the overstepping of their jurisdiction (Henry, 2002). On the contrary, the local agencies are well within their right to implement response measures to terrorist events. Ina addition, and as it has already been shown, the local police are well acquainted with the immediate community and therefore present an even higher probability of identifying suspects and preventing the occurrence of such acts of terrorism in the future (Pelfrey, 2005).
However, although the local government might be actively involved in terrorism response, there are however situations where response at the level may not be limited by jurisdiction but by resource unavailability and lack of enough ability and expertise. This is where the state and the federal agencies take center stage over all matters (Henry, 2002).
The role of the local police however in responding to terrorism is felt even more when local police collaborate with federal and state agencies. Collaboration between the local police and the state and federal agencies usually encompasses the establishment and development of information sharing systems. One of the systems established in many local areas is the fusion, center. Virginia is one of the states that have invested heavily in these systems called fusions centers.
Fusion centers are usually strategically located. They refer to specially established centers or focal points within the state and the local environment where receipt, analysis and sharing of information related to terrorist activities takes place. This sharing occurs between the local, the state and the federal agencies. A fusion center does not just encompass the input of state, federal and local law enforcement agencies but also includes local partners who collaborate and also share with these agencies things such as resources information, expertise that is meant to assist in better identification, detection, and response of terrorism as well as other huge criminal activities (Pelfrey, 2005).
The prevention and response to terrorism from the local level is specifically important for the state of Virginia because of its proximity to the nation’s capital. The state houses the CIA headquarters at Langley, and other government agencies. Terrorists might conclude that launching attacks on this state might have the same magnitude or effect as launching an attack on the capital. This is why the involvement of the local police and other local agencies in terrorist prevention and response is hugely important. Fusion centers play a huge role in ensuring that the input of local agencies to terrorism prevention is appreciated and included as part of the national strategy on terrorism. As mentioned earlier, the state of Virginia has invested heavily at this front. The Virginia Fusion Centre has partnerships across several areas that include the local, state and federal law enforcement, military personnel, emergency responses, critical infrastructure, the general public and the private industries (Cyganik. 2003). Some of the major partners at the state and federal level that actively collaborate with local agencies include the Virginia State Police, , The Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Virginia Department of Fire programs, the Virginia Department of Corrections, the Virginia National Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigations and finally the Department of Homeland Security.
Local law enforcement agencies however play the largest role even in these fusion centers. The ability of the local police to penetrate the local community and acquire relevant information and that may assist in terrorist response and prevention is unmatched by both state and federal police. This has been seen throughout this discussion. There is a high probability of local police gaining crucial information from the community than the probability of the information being gained by state and the federal agencies. This is particularly the case in Virginia where the community has always been apprehensive of the federal and state agencies and have been more trustful of the local police.
Since 9/11, studies seem to indicate that local law enforcement in Virginia has undergone humongous changes. For a long time, the local law enforcement in Virginia just like in other state was not majorly involved in issues and activities related to terrorism. It was rare to hear the word terrorism being mentioned at the local police level. All activities related to terrorism seem to have been left to the reserve of the federal agencies. Information gathering, investigations and response to terrorism activities was mainly carried out by federal agencies such as the FBI, the NSA and Homeland Security (Enders & Sandler, 2005). In addition, active collaborations between federal, state and local agencies were also most non-existence. In fact, there seemed to be some kind of hostility between the three entities. For instance, the going of federal law enforcement agents into the community to investigate or seek information was treated suspiciously by local law enforcement agencies (Enders & Sandler, 2005). Another thing is that local law enforcement agencies were oblivious or at least tried to be oblivious to matters related to terrorism. Focus was placed on other criminal acts but as mentioned earlier, terrorism was strictly left to federal and state agencies.
However, 9/11 seems to have brought about changes in the scope and status of things within the Virginia local police or law enforcement agencies (Enders & Sandler, 2005). First of all, there has been heightened awareness for the suspicious actions or activities. The former obliviousness observed among local law enforcement agents has disappeared and every single officer within the local community is always on the lookout for any activity or individual who might seem suspicious. Anything suspicious and that an officer deem could be related to terrorism is quickly relayed to fusion centers to undergo analysis and more checkup. In addition, the local police in Virginia has introduced the community policing. This is a strategy where members of the public acts as the ears and eyes of the local law enforcement agents. Anything that appears to be suspicious to the community is quickly reported, and action is taken immediately.
This new trend among local law enforced agents and the community has helped to subvert many potential terrorists’ events (Enders & Sandler, 2005). The change in direction in regard to local law enforcement and terrorism has not just been witnessed in Virginia but has also been witnessed in other states around the country where the local law enforcement and the local community have been at the front-line of collecting intelligence on potential terrorist activity and consequently taking decisive actions.
Another observed change in the local law enforcement in Virginia and its response to terrorism relates to training. Before 9/11, local police agents and officers received very minimal training in regards to terrorist activities. In fact, more terrorist activities had been carried out in during that era; the impact would have been tremendous as local agents would have been very poorly prepared and trained to deal with such a phenomenal event. However, this has changed by a huge margin.
Currently, training has increased significantly for many local police officers on matters related to emergency preparation and response for all types of criminal activities including those that are biological, chemical, nuclear, and radiological and even the conventional terrorist attacks.
Although terrorism prevention and response is part of the training program that officers undergo at the academy, they are still subjected to refresher courses once they are in the field in order to keep abreast with new and emerging strategies and techniques that are related to terrorism. The increased training has made the local police to be very aware of any terrorist threat within the community and in addition, if any terrorist threat and activity was to happen, the officers would be more than prepared to effectively deal with it and respond appropriately due to the intense training that they have received. There have been no terrorist attacks in the state of Virginia recent years and this can be attributed to the combined efforts of the state, federal and local law enforcement agencies which have all come together to share ideas and information that has been used to prevent the occurrence of terrorist activities. However, much of the credit has to go to the local law enforcement agencies especially the police.
The September 9/11 terrorist attacks exposed the United States vulnerability to terrorist attacks. It exposed various loopholes within the national security system that terrorists could exploit to commit atrocious acts that would greatly harm the country. It also showed that when it comes to matters of terrorism, there is a huge need for a combined efforts between local, state and federal agencies. Since that time, local law enforcement has been at the forefront of terrorism prevention and response across the nation in states like Virginia. Local police have been involved with interacting with the local community to gather pertinent information related to terrorism and through combined efforts with other stakeholders, a lot of progress in regards to terrorism response has occurred.
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