Local Police Response to Terrorism in the City of Norfolk Virginia Research Paper

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Norfolk Virginia is a medium sized city, and like many other local communities, has had to adapt to the new reality that the events of September 11, 2001 have forced the nation to accept. In the wake of the attacks a federal Commission was charged with exploring the causes, events, and lessons to be learned from the tragedy. This commission recommended a dual path approach to keeping the nation safe: firstly confronting terrorism outside the United States and improving and then maintaining adequate defenses against potential terrorist attacks. In the years following the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia, the city of Norfolk, in conjunction with both the state of Virginia and the federal government has implemented a number of new policies to deal with the threat faced by the community.


The events of September 11, 2001 have had a significant effect on the way Americans feel and behave toward subject of national security. This change in the way Americans view their safety has not only impacted the areas directly affected by the terrorist attacks, primarily New York and the Washington/Arlington area, but the way each individual community across the nation has come to view the subject of terrorism and the potential for a terrorist attack. In a recent study, two major tendencies were identified as being important to the American public: "a long-term lasting search for security…and a medium-term risk avoiding behavior in the loss domain." (Sacco, 2003, p. 1113) What this study indicates is that Americans want their local communities to enact policies that will prevent terrorist attacks in order to create a long-term secure nation. The attacks of September 11 have changed the way Americans view security as well as the actions they expect their elected community leaders to act. (Silver, 2004, p.47) One specific community that has attempted to learn from the attacks of September 11 and enact new policies in response to the danger posed by a possible terrorist attack is Norfolk Virginia. In light of the recommendations made in the wake of the worst terrorist attack in United States history, it is important to examine the changes made by the local Norfolk government and study their effectiveness.

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the federal government ordered the creation of a commission to investigate the circumstances which led to the attack and make recommendations as to prevent such occurrences from happening in the future. In the words of the commission itself, its purpose was to chronicle the terrorist attacks, the terrible losses, and to "create something positive -- an America that is safer, stronger, and wiser." ("9/11 Commission report") The commission hoped to design a strategy to deal with potential terrorist attacks that is balanced; meaning that they want to attack the terrorists outside the United States while simultaneously enacting changes that will keep America safe from future attacks. This means that the way governmental agencies operate, including the way they interact with each other, had to be studied, evaluated, and changed to better protect the citizens.

Prior to the September 11 attacks, the way government agencies reacted to terrorist attacks was to treat them more as a criminal activity than a threat to the national security. According to the 9/11 Commission report, those inside the government who felt that Al Qaeda posed a significant threat to the United States were in the minority and had a very difficult time educating the Clinton administration to the possible threat. This was in part because the administration was then involved in a number of other international and domestic problems, but also due to the strict separation of agencies within the government and their tendency to avoid interacting. ("9/11 Commission Report, p.119") Some agencies possessed partial intelligence that could have, if combined with intelligence gathered by other agencies, allowed the intelligence community to predict and possible prevent the attacks of September 11th.

One of the leading criticism of the government in the time before September 11, 2001 was that they did not fully understand the threat posed by foreign terrorists. For instance, no one had raised the possibility that airplanes themselves could be used as weapons, and therefore the government was not alerted to that particular possibility. The American government also tended to underestimate a threat that grew ever greater." (9/11 Commission Report, p. 348) So in light of the attacks, the government set about to create a plan of action that would make itself better prepared for a future in which terrorist organizations create threats to national security.

The 9/11 Commission has published a number of recommendations for both the federal government and local governments to follow in the hopes of preventing another attack like the September 11 ones. The first recommendation the Commission made as for the government to better understand and define the threats faced. In the current atmosphere, there were two specific enemies identified: Al Qaeda and "a radical ideological movement in the Islamic world…" ("9/11 Commission Report, p. 363") With this new definition, the Commission then recommended a series of foreign policy changes that could be made by the federal government in order to take the fight to the terrorist.

But while the United States maintained a robust offense, it was recommended that an equally robust defense be put in place. This would include a layered system of security with the federal government responsible for national security situation such as immigration, border protection, and other such national issues. In addition, the federal government must also enact a series of informational changes in order to better share intelligence resources and provide for better interagency communication. But the federal government must also allocate whatever intelligence and assets to local governments in order to adequately provide these local agencies with sufficient information and the means to protect their local communities and to provide assistance in emergency situations.

When it comes to local governments and their response to the September 11th attacks, recent studies have uncovered a number of interesting findings. For instance, counterterrorism policing is similar to crime policing and therefore local law enforcement must be proactive in their intelligence gathering in local communities. And in the case of a terrorist attack, saving lives must be the important aspect of the response, and as a result police should isolate the area in order to prevent a second, more devastating attack. ("Learning from 9/11") Prior to any attack, local governments should form special units for special duties related to terrorism. These may include intelligence units, operational units, public relations units, community affairs units, but must be active in the community and ready to respond to any terrorist attack. ("Learning from 9/11")

At the state level, the Commonwealth of Virginia has published a Terrorism Threat Assessment to disseminate information on terrorism threats to the many communities in the state. Stated in the assessment are the reasons why local communities within Virginia must take seriously the threat posed by potential terrorist attacks. "…the presence of extremists, evidence of tends linked to terrorism, and the abundance of potential targets, suggests that the potential for Virginia to be targeted remains significant." ("2009 Virginia Terrorism Threat Assessment") In response to these threats, the state of Virginia has been divided into seven divisions which can concentrate resources and cooperate more efficiently. Norfolk Virginia is located within Division 5, which "contains a high concentration of critical infrastructure relating to Navy, Coast Guard, and Army installations." ("2009 Virginia Terrorism Threat Assessment, p.17") It is hoped that these Divisions, with their teams of regional advisory committees, will allow local responders to better train and cooperate in the event of a terrorist attack.

Another of the federal programs which has been implemented is the Corrective Action Program (CAP) found within the National Incident Management System (NIMS). This program "provides a standard methodology for the handling of corrective actions and improvement plans." ("Evaluate and Improve") The federal government has also aided local communities by identifying critical infrastructure and key resources (CIKR) that need to come to the attention of local authorities. And since it is estimated that close to 85% of the critical infrastructure/key resources are private assets, this necessitates "public and private partnerships for effective CIKR protection" ("2009 Virginia Terrorism Threat Assessment, p.134")

The city of Norfolk Virginia has a population of 242,000 people under the protection of more than 750 police officers. In response to the attacks of September 11, 2001 a number of changes were put into place to improve the prevention and response to terrorist attacks. Foremost among these changes was the creation of the Homeland Security Division which consists of three specialized units: the Harbor Patrol Unit, Special Operations Team, and the Bomb Squad. According to the Norfolk Police Department website, the purpose of the Harbor Patrol is to ensure the safe flow of waterborne critical assets transiting the Norfolk Harbor." ("Homeland Security Division") While the Harbor Patrol Unit provides more mundane services, it also works in conjunction with the…[continue]

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