Cities, Public Safety Policing, Crime Control
July 1st, 2005 4 Minute Read Report by Tim Connors

Hard Won Lessons: Policing Terrorism in the United States


Our national, state, and local governments have made dramatic changes since 9/11. The private sector, firefighters, police officers, emergency medical professionals, and public works employees have all emerged as new stakeholders in U.S. national security.

- The Honorable Christopher Cox[1]

It is conventional wisdom today that local agencies are critical to defeating our terrorist enemies. Some authorities argue that, in fact, some local activities are often more important to securing the Homeland than national or international efforts.[2] As Dr. George Kelling succinctly states, "Police matter."

This we know.

The more difficult task comes with identifying the practical, cost-effective steps that will make the journey of integrating local assets into our national security strategy a smooth one. If police matter, as we know they do, what exactly should they be doing to prevent our enemies from conducting another successful attack here?

There are as many different answers to that question as there are police departments in America. New York City will have different priorities than Paterson, New Jersey and can be expected to adopt different approaches. But it should be apparent that cities large and small have common and shared security concerns. For example, the attacks in New York were planned and staged outside of New York, while the resulting economic impact was national and international in consequence. This hard won lesson teaches us that in today's fast-paced, connected world, effective prevention in Paterson is effective prevention in New York and vice versa.

While Paterson and New York will follow different paths to effective prevention, some steps are fundamental. Perhaps the most important among these is that effective prevention begins with good police work, without which we bear a great risk of failing to stop future attacks. So, the first step for police departments in achieving success with the prevention component of their counter terrorism programs is to continue to improve on police work.

This is only the first step in the journey, however. September 11th forced an unprecedented convergence of the law enforcement and national security worlds. As a consequence, the policeman and the soldier will no longer have their feet firmly planted on their own turf. We see soldiers on the nightly news reports from Afghanistan and Iraq interacting with community members, problem solving, and helping to keep communities clean, safe and secure - all things we see police officers do in our own communities every day. Likewise, police departments such as the NYPD are shifting from organizing their activities solely around the prosecution of criminals. The prevention of terrorist attacks, which does not necessarily lead to criminal prosecutions, is now considered a core function for these departments.

That organizational shift will require more than good police work. It demands that senior executives of states and major cities begin to think strategically and operationally about preventing an attack before it occurs. This will require a shift in focus and priorities from the more familiar "respond" activities to "œprevent" activities across the spectrum of law enforcement and other first responder and supporting organizations. It also requires these officials to think about their cities using the same methods that a military officer uses to think about a battlefield. For example, the terrain must be analyzed to determine vulnerability. The threat must be appropriately assessed and monitored. Information requirements must be formulated, information shared, and intelligence products disseminated. Vulnerability and threat analysis must then drive operational responses. Training programs focused on essential tasks must be developed, and a training management system that demands the joint functioning of all local assets must be implemented. Terrorist tactics from around the world must be studied for the purpose of adopting more effective countermeasures. And the list goes on. All of which must be accomplished while respecting civil liberties and controlling costs, areas in which police can rightfully expect robust scrutiny.

This is a tall order for cities with a large resource base, such as New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. What about Paterson, or Providence, or Peoria? How do smaller communities generate the resources to bridge the gap between good police work and effective prevention?

A comprehensive answer to that question is for another day. However, we believe that private think tanks like the Manhattan Institute and academic centers like the Police Institute offer one cost effective tool. Through conferences, papers, case studies, research, training seminars and other methods, we provide police departments large and small with opportunities to access the best counter terrorism and criminal justice minds in the world.

We hope you find this publication of immediate use in your daily operations and encourage you to view our other resources at and at

Timothy P. Connors
Manhattan Institute



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