In a 2005 paper in Law & Society Review, Thacher says the decentralized nature of the federal government places sharp limits on the ability of national policy makers to mobilize the great majority of the country’s police officers to serve national goals. “If policy makers and the public conclude that these national goals have grown in importance relative to street crime, they may find it easier to shift resources toward federal police rather than reshape local policing.”
Following the 9/11 attacks, many local police departments around the country expressed concerns about their ability to provide for homeland security without compromising traditional community policing responsibilities. Indeed, shortly after 9/11, several U.S. cities, Portland, Ore., among them, refused federal entreaties to interview young male immigrants from those countries believed to be harboring terrorists.
“Since community protection tasks lie squarely within the interests and competence of traditional police agencies, for most agencies the most promising and likely contribution of police to homeland security is likely to lie in this area,” Thacher says. “The more dramatic and controversial area of offender search, by contrast, may fall more readily to national intelligence agencies like the FBI.”
Terrorism front line
Most local police departments were put in the same difficult position as the Dearborn police following 9/11. The attacks changed just about everything in the United States, including how local law enforcement agencies relate to the communities they serve. Local police departments that had previously embraced community oriented policing policies to address crime suddenly found they were on the front lines in the war on terror. Some agencies changed their model of policing in order to embrace new homeland security responsibilities, a move encouraged by the federal government.
Washington recognized the enormous anti-terrorism resource local police potentially represented. There are more than 600,000 local police officers spread across nearly 13,000 autonomous local police departments in the United States, but there are only 12,000 FBI agents. Washington’s shifting interests can be seen in funding swings. From 2001 to 2005, federal funding to the local police and first responder community increased from $616 million to $3.4 billion, most earmarked for homeland security.
The new emphasis on homeland security, however, often resulted in reduced community policing, which degraded community-police relationships, particularly in immigrant and Arab-American neighborhoods like Dearborn.
“After 9/11, community policing was shoved to the wayside as all budgets went to homeland security,” says Robert Friedmann, a Georgia State emeritus professor of criminal justice and a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police Community Policing Committee. “Homeland security had immediate, clear, definable needs to protect people and property while community policing was, and still is, perceived more as a soft and complex approach.”
Shortly after 9/11, IACP’s Community Policing Committee formulated a resolution adopted by IACP general membership to promote community policing as an integral part of homeland security. “That resolution wasn’t worth the paper it was written on because I doubt … serious thought was given to incorporating community policing as part of homeland security,” Friedmann says.
That IACP committee provides annual awards to local police for excellence in community policing, with special mention given to those local police departments who try and combine the two. “The awards are few and far between,” he says.
Friedmann says the problem began with the advent of community policing in the 1980s and 1990s, even before homeland security was an issue: “There was always more rhetoric than reality.” Friedmann says community policing is not simply being more friendly with local citizens. Community policing means being proactive, developing partnerships, and addressing sources of crime as a precursor to reducing crime.
“The importance of this to homeland security is that the principles of being proactive and partnership-creation are extremely relevant to minimizing the likelihood of a terrorist incident. If someone in the community has information, you want them to provide that intelligence to you, but in order to do that you have to have developed good relationships in the community,” he says.