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We Owe Thanks To Our Police and Firefighters

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We Owe Thanks To Our Police and Firefighters

Washington Examiner September 7, 2011
Urban PolicyOtherCrimeNYC

On September 11, we will honor the police and firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty. First responders were at the “tip of the spear” 10 years ago.

Though they could not possibly be prepared for this “new kind of war,” they performed their duties bravely and selflessly. We will remember their example in public ceremonies and private reflection around the country.

We should also take a moment to think about how their profession has changed. On September 12, 2001, police chiefs woke up to the reality that their cities were targets.

Oceans and armies alone could no longer be relied upon to protect the public from global threats. The 9/11 terrorists had breached a gap between traditional defenses and local public safety. We were vulnerable.

In the years since 9/11, leaders like NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and LAPD Chief Bill Bratton understood that police had a role to play in closing that gap.

They went to work changing the mindset, building new organizations, and weaving the unique competencies of U.S. police forces into a national security fabric.

As director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Policing Terrorism, I had a front row seat to see and help make change. We learned that police had numbers, local networks, and the ability to spot signs of trouble.

They did not have intelligence systems, analytical capability, and information technologies. Nor did they have a “seat at the table” of national-security decision-makers.

All of this changed over the last decade. Today, there are over 60 state and local “fusion” centers around the country that gather and analyze data, producing the intelligence that police need to fight crime and terror. They’re also hubs in a robust information-sharing architecture.

Local law enforcement officers have deployed overseas and to various homeland security postings in the capitol region. They have mastered sophisticated detection systems that guard against Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) attacks.

And they have joined complex investigations to prevent terrorist activity. Police have also worked with private owners of critical infrastructure to evaluate and protect those systems, reducing their vulnerability to attack.

Building on community policing programs, officers have established close relationships with their communities. Other officers have worked with businesses to make them aware of warning signs peculiar to particular industries or sectors.

Police have also developed public-awareness campaigns that urge citizens to report it when they see something out of place, like an abandoned suitcase in a train station.

The benefits of these efforts can be hard to measure. But the attacks that have been foiled—on train stations, military bases, and police stations—offer the best evidence that the hard work and innovation of our police professionals is paying off.

And improved intelligence systems have also delivered unanticipated benefits, like crime reduction and operating efficiencies.

But more importantly, as indicated in polling data over time, Americans feel that the terrorist threat is manageable. Providing a sense of safety is the core job of law enforcement.

Police deserve high marks for what they have achieved this past decade. Today’s public-sector budget pressures, however, mean that innovation will be even more important in the future.

Police will have to train smarter and cheaper, for example, using online tools and distance learning. They will have to improve their ability to detect warning signs. And they will have to seek continuously to improve and standardize their professionalism.

Americans owe our men and women in uniform—those fighting overseas and those protecting us here at home—their respect and gratitude. Make it a point to thank a police officer or firefighter on September 11, and tell them to keep up the good work.

This piece originally appeared in Washington Examiner