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Hometown Security

Author: Eben Kaplan
Updated: January 2, 2007

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A record one million people crowded into New York City’s Times Square to watch the ball drop on New Years Eve (NY Daily News). Also on hand for the event were some 3,500 police officers, assisted by bomb-sniffing dogs and rooftop snipers, to ensure the revelers’ safety. Though one of the most visible displays of New York’s counterterrorism efforts, security on New Year’s Eve barely hints at the vast scope of the city’s program to defend itself from terrorists. Less than a week after Raymond W. Kelly took the reins of the New York Police Department (NYPD) in January 2002, he created an extensive counterterrorism bureau based on the assumption that New York could not rely on the federal government to protect it from the terrorist threat (New Yorker). The bureau has since grown to more than 1,000 officers, including Internet-savvy foreign language experts who monitor radical chat rooms and liaison officers who collect information about terrorist activities from abroad. These efforts yielded results in 2004 when a yearlong undercover operation ended in the arrest of two men who had plotted to bomb the Herald Square subway station just a block away from the Republican National Convention in Madison Square Garden (New York).

New York is not the only city to take up the fight against terrorism; as this new Backgrounder explains, state and local governments across the country are working to keep their residents safe from terrorists. New Jersey, whose citizens bore the brunt of the 9/11 attacks, has restructured its entire approach to police work. A new manual on “intelligence-led policing” explains that “in order to secure our homeland and sustain our hometown way of life we must revolutionize the manner in which we police” (PDF). Writing in Civic Bulletin, Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton and Rutgers University Professor George L. Kelling explain that this kind of approach transforms law enforcement officers from first responders into “first preventers.” It even played a role in uncovering a plot to bomb synagogues in southern California. R.P. Eddy, a counterterrorism expert from the Manhattan Institute, urged a recent CFR symposium to consider the 700,000 police officers in the United States as “counterterrorism entities.”

Many state and local governments find themselves rather suddenly responsible with protecting national assets. For instance, New York’s $900 billion economy, which is larger than that of most countries, warrants plenty of federal protection. Thus, the Federal Bureau of Investigation collaborates with state and local agencies on Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism Richard A. Falkenrath recently told Congress, “permits the awesome power of the federal government’s national intelligence capabilities to be brought to bear against any particular terrorism case.” The federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also distributes more than $700 million in Urban Area Security Grants. This year, cuts in funds for New York and Washington provoked outcry (WashPost). DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff answered his critics in a New York Times op-ed, with which bloggers continued to take issue. CFR Senior Fellow Stephen E. Flynn suggests improvements for the DHS grant system in this CFR.org Podcast. With Democrats taking the reins of power next year, however, the Democratic bastion of New York may find it easier to win funding: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) has urged the Senate to make these grants a priority for next year’s budget, arguing “This funding is essential to keeping our nation safe.”  

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