The traditional mission of police forces in the United States is fighting criminality and upholding the law in the defined geographical area or boundary they belong to. This translates to the local police forces of towns, municipalities and cities engaging in policing activities in these respective areas. Outside of these boundaries, the state police forces have responsibilities and on the national level, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has jurisdiction. Prior to the onset of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the American homeland, the mission and boundaries of the aforementioned police forces are clear and distinct. Immediately thereafter, there has been a tremendous paradigm shift in the mission of police forces in the United States because the growing threats of terrorism and terrorist activities have entered into the very heart of the nation. Even several years after the 9/11 attacks, terrorists have taken liberties in planning and launching their attacks in various cities across the United States. As a result, local police forces see themselves fighting a new breed of threats thereby necessitating a different kind of support to ensure that they can do their jobs properly.
Although police forces in the United States have had experiences fighting criminal elements engaged in transnational crimes as well as members of international criminal organizations, terrorism brought about a different challenge because of the nature of their activities. Unlike ordinary criminals who would surrender to police officers when caught, terrorists, especially the hard core ones would rather blow themselves up and take others with them including women and children. This kind of threat provides a different perspective to police forces because of the different nature of terrorism. Hence, there have been problems in the areas of civil liberties and human rights when police forces start treating suspects as if they are terrorists. This is the result of the enactment of the Patriot Act that differentiated between criminal acts and terrorist activities. In the former, the actions of these individuals and groups are against persons, properties and the law. The latter however are threats to national securities and since most terrorist actors are not U.S. citizens, they are deemed under the control of foreign powers or groups that are bent on undermining the United States government and its citizens.
Indeed, police forces in the United States find themselves facing a conflict between personal liberties and national security but this conflict is continually undergoing scrutiny in order to strike a balance. Preserving both liberty and security rather than sacrificing one or the other requires wise and, therefore, non-panicked policy (Terwilliger, Cooperstein, Blumenthal, & Parker, 2005). This ideal has been brought out and made long before the 9/11 attacks when a committee in the U.S. Congress stated (Terwilliger et al., 2005):
Our view is that in the event of a catastrophic event such as we are talking about, where you have tens of thousands of people dead, the pressures will be very great on the President and the leadership of this country to impinge on civil liberties unless they have done some contingency planning and thought it through ahead of time.
Bearing this in mind, police forces should constantly keep abreast of updates in statutes, policies and legislations in order to know how to better deal with terrorists in their jurisdictions. In doing so, they will not incessantly deal with balancing national security and personal liberties but instead are guided by existing laws that provide clear and distinct rules of engagements.
If terrorism poses new challenges to police forces in the United States, social stigma has been an age old reality for the police. Some of these social stigmas become stereotypes or discriminatory marks on police forces everywhere. For example, if a particular police precinct has had corrupt police officers for several decades, and these unscrupulous law enforcement officers had been rid off the force, the new breed of police officers will have a difficult time removing the blemish on the precinct. The reason being is that the community has been so used to seeing bad cops for several years and has given up on any changes happening. Thus, the current crop of police officers will have to work extra hard at changing the bad image into a good one. They will have to work extra hard at assuring…