Sep 1108

Policing in a Post-9/11 America

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it is interesting to take a look at how these events have shaped the police profession in the 21st century.  Let’s take a look at how policing has changed since then.

New Threats, New Focus

One of the most obvious changes is in mission focus.  As Secretary Napolitano likes to say, homeland security is hometown security.  Today officers serve as the front line `against another terrorist attack. They carry out traditional police duties while also monitoring and reporting suspicious activity and preparing for disaster scenarios. Infrastructure and facilities that were once just part of the landscape are now potential targets requiring a new level of vigilance. Large departments like NYPD and LAPD even have units devoted to counterterrorism.

Information Sharing

This is arguably one of the most significant changes in the way law enforcement does business.  Prior to 9/11 law enforcement was very much a silo culture where information was viewed as proprietary with little exchange between agencies at the local or national levels.  Today there are massive information sharing initiatives at all levels of government, and there are over 70 fusion centers around the country whose sole purpose is to assimilate and share information.

Interagency Collaboration

Not only is information shared more freely, but so too are resources and staff.  Interagency task forces and work groups are common, bringing together individuals from various law enforcement and criminal justice agencies.  The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force is one. Some states and regions have their own local and regional versions.  

Community Relations

Police have always been plugged into their communities. It’s their job, after all.  But the attacks of 9/11 changed things.  Citizens are now called upon to work with law enforcement, lookout for suspicious activity, and if they “see something, say something.”  Additionally, direct relations with the Muslim community have increased.  Many departments have Muslim outreach units to build a rapport and trust with these populations.


Radiation detectors and personal protective equipment including biohazard / hazmat suits and gas masks are nearly standard issue.  Interoperable radio equipment that allows agencies to communicate with one another during an emergency is also common. 


You can’t have snazzy new equipment or assume new missions without proper training.  Since 9/11, law enforcement has been inundated with a variety of terrorism related training, everything from responding to a suicide bomber to firearms qualification wearing gasmasks.  Disaster preparedness training through FEMA’s incident command system may be the single biggest addition to law enforcement training since 9/11, along with training on suspicious activity reporting.

 It is safe to say that September 11th ushered in a new era of policing in America, bringing new demands and challenges to the field.  How did 9/11 change policing in YOUR town?

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