FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
Last month's editorial ( "The End of the Beginning," p. 8) prompted a lot of discussion with people I know and work with, and most of it centered on questions such as "Where do we go from here?" and "What can we do?" For those of you who missed it, I discussed our ongoing adjustment to a new type of policing and new responsibilities since Sept. 11. I also wrote that we re just now hitting full stride, and the real battles may well lie ahead.
Times have changed, and we must adapt accordingly. Traditionally, policing has consisted of two steps investigate and prosecute. As soon as we learn of a problem, we check it out (investigate) and take action against it (prosecute). But it's time for a revised approach: We must actively try to intervene and prevent.
One of the things we learned from Sept. 11 was that attacks on America will come from within, and that means that good cops doing routine police work will come across these people if we actively do police work and take our responsibilities seriously. Knowing what we know now, we can use routine field contacts to begin putting the pieces together so that we can intervene and prevent problems. (By the way, for those of you who refuse to believe terrorists might show up in your part of the country, this same approach works very well for hard core crooks, so keep reading.)
First, work your area of responsibility like you expect something to go wrong on your shift. Sure, it s tough to maintain a high level of readiness, but that s what you re paid for, not to find a shade tree where you can read the Sunday paper or spend hours in the local caf telling stories.
Take an active look at what s going on. Pay attention when something new comes your way and whatever you do, don t explain it away by rationalizing that, Nothing ever happens around here. Act like it matters, because it does. Search like you ll find something and you often will. It s absolutely amazing what happens when you look with an expectation that there must be something worth finding. The field interview card or citation does make a difference, especially with the advent of fusion centers around the country that have begun to assimilate and analyze this information. So take the time to document your contacts.
Second, practice random acts of policing. Show up when and where you aren t expected. Stop in at the front gate to the local power plant, amusement park, shopping mall, movie theater, water treatment facility, food processing center, etc. If they ll let you walk the grounds a little, do so. It s a winner all the way around. You provide a visible deterrent and learn more about an area that you might be called to in the event of an emergency. Just as important, you learn to spot things that are out of place and open lines of communication with people who know when something isn t right.
It s real easy to assume it won t happen to you or where you live. After all, the bad stuff only happens in places like Detroit, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, right? Big city investigators and the FBI are running down the people who seek to destroy our country, correct? Well, see if you recognize any of these names: Diana Dean, Charles Hanger and Jeff Postell. Each was doing the job of a regular uniformed law officer when they captured some of the most dangerous terrorists our country has ever known.
Dean was performing a routine customs interview at a Northwest border station and prevented an airport bombing by Ahmed Ressam. Hanger made a routine traffic stop and captured Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber. Postell made a routine security check behind a small North Carolina convenience store and captured Eric Rudolph, who had spent more than five years on the FBI s Most Wanted List for domestic terrorism.
Note that all of these officers were doing their fundamental job, and the word routine factored into each of their stories. Hmm, doesn t sound like Agent Jack Bauer on the TV series 24, does it?
Here s the challenge: We ll probably never know how successful our efforts have been because we often don t know when we ve prevented something. It s a different score card now. You can t simply look at the number of arrests made.
We must now work in intervention and prevention mode. Using this approach, we can stop the bad guys.
Dale Stockton, Editor