IntroductionFrom the moment the terrorist bombings of September 11, 2001 hit the American homeland, there has been an increased level of commitment to improving partnerships between federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and intelligence organizations (Waxman, 2009). Currently, getting it right when it comes to ensuring the national homeland is protected against terrorist attacks is among one the biggest challenges facing Washington. Law enforcement agents at the national, state, and local levels are the United States’ first line of defense against acts of terrorism. As a critical part of these security agents, the police force is mandated to develop strategies to protect local communities and critical infrastructures, prepare for aggressive interventions to terrorist activity, gather intelligence on possible criminal activity, and engage members of the community in a positive, cooperative way.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, police agencies’ duties for providing protection to members of the public and potential target areas like public parks, education facilities, and health care centers have increased considerably. According to the After Action Report (2014), the Boston Police moved in swiftly to protect critical infrastructure after the bomb blasts on Boylston Street. In the initial stages of the bombings, when it was not known for sure how extensive the attack was, the local Boston Police undertook some preemptive steps to quickly beef up security at major landmarks and critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and the transport infrastructure. Security at hospitals that admitted those wounded by the incident was heightened drastically, as it was not known at that moment whether any of those hurt were also the culprits behind the attack, or whether more explosives had been placed in their personal possessions.
Planning and preparing for domestic aggression
One of the main lessons learned from the current literature on crime prevention is that although a lot of crimes can be preempted and prevented, not all crimes can be prevented. As one of the major security threats that the United States is facing at the moment, not all planned acts of terrorism can be thwarted. In that regard, it is the responsibility the homeland security agents to make sure effective strategies to facilitate the safety of the general public and allow for a comprehensive probe are in existence following a terrorism incident. In the After Action Report (2014), the local Boston Police were part of a multidisciplinary team tasked with the responsibility of watching out for explosive material. This collaborative team had wide-ranging competences, making it possible for the Boston Police to quickly establish that the detonated bombs did not have any harmful chemical, radiological or nuclear substances soon after the explosions occurred.
The principal objective of intelligence gathering in homeland security is to stop criminals in their tracks before they can perpetrate crimes. However, collection of intelligence is perhaps the most important yet contentious national security role for the police. In the past years, the police force has been a subject of criticism by civil rights groups as well as public media. Following negative publicity over bad law enforcement tactics, especially during the period of civil strife in the 1950s and 1960s, several police agencies got rid of their intelligence gathering units completely (Waxman, 2009). After 9/11, majority of these agencies struggled to rebuild or expand their intelligence collection departments. The After Action Report (2014) indicates that the police in Boston took measures to safeguard the crime scene as soon as possible once the injured individuals were removed from the scene. Initially, up to 15 blocks within the area of Boylston Street were cordoned off. This helped to preserve and gather evidence.
Another role of the police in homeland security is community policing. Community policing is based on the order maintenance function. It accentuates the need to build and maintain positive, cooperative relationships between the police forces and the members of the community in an effort to curtail crime-induced fear and lawlessness. In order to ensure the success of community policing, there has to be an effective line of communication between the general public and the law enforcement agencies. For that reason, the United States can capitalize on the existence of the robust foundation that has been built in the country’s law enforcement agencies with community policing as a strategy to prevent crime on the homeland. Law enforcement agencies need to sensitize citizens on the telltale signs of terrorism in addition to supplying information on what to do upon noticing suspicious activity. According to the After Action Report (2014), the Boston Police worked hand-in-hand with other emergency responders within the Unified Command Center (UCC) to come up with clear, succinct messages they could communicate to members of the general public and the press concerning the incident, its consequences, and what was being done in the aftermath.
Generally, terrorism can be described as a crime that is instigated by political, social or religious dogmas designed to spark widespread fear among members of the target community. Inherent in this description is that the targeted groups or communities are non-combatants whereas the committers are criminals. For American law enforcement organizations, acts of terrorism continue to be a major threat to the security of the United States. In light of the level of preparedness that was demonstrated after the Boston Marathon terrorism incident, it can be seen that the law enforcement agencies, including the Boston Police succeeded in mandate to respond to criminal attacks, probe, and arrest the perpetrators of the crime.
- After Action Report for the Response to the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings. (2014, December). Retrieved from http://www.mass.gov/eopss/docs/mema/after-action-report-for-the-response-to-the-2013-boston-marathon-bombings.pdf
- Waxman, M. C. (2009). Police and national security: American local law enforcement and counter-terrorism after 9/11. Journal of National Security Law & Policy, 3, 377. Retrieved from http://jnslp.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/09_Waxman-Master-12-7-09-.pdf