Training, Funding and Equipment

By Sharp, Arthur | Law & Order, October 2003 | Go to article overview

Training, Funding and Equipment


Sharp, Arthur, Law & Order


An Antiterrorism Triangle

When an explosion rocked a Yale Law School building in New Haven, CT, around 4:40 p.m. on May 21, 2003, speculation began immediately about the nature of the blast, who was responsible for it, whether there was a terrorist connection, etc. In the recent past, the idea of terrorism would not have entered people's minds when such an incident occurred. September 11, 2001, changed all that, and the way agencies deal with terrorism.

Terrorism is uppermost in people's thoughts nowadays when out-of-the ordinary events occur. Citizens are more alert about the pos- sibility of terrorism. Naturally, they turn to their local agencies for help. The question, though, is whether the agencies are prepared to handle possible terrorist incidents. And, if not, to whom do they turn for help? Those are questions were asked of several randomly selected agencies in a recent survey. Thirty agencies contacted shared their views.

At the time the survey was conducted, in May 2003, only 50% of the respondents indicated that they were well prepared to deal with terrorism-related events should they occur. Thirty-six percent said they were not- with some qualifiers. As Sheriff Kieran McMullen, Grady County, OK, said, "It depends on the size of the event." The other 14% were not sure of their readiness. There might be good reason for their uncertainty.

Thirty-six percent of the respondents reported that their agencies' post-9/11 standard operations have not changed due to antiterrorism measures put in place by government agencies. Therefore, they might not have any way to assess their preparedness until a terrorism event occurs. However, that they have not changed their operations does not mean they are ignoring the need to prepare. Overall, agencies are extremely active in stepping up training, changing their crime priorities, acquiring new equipment, etc.

LEA administrators are attempting to train as many personnel as possible in antiterrorism strategies and the use of new equipment. That is easier said than done, though. Although 91% of the respondents said that all officers should be trained in antiterrorism, there are serious barriers to completing the training, such as budgetary constraints and slow acquisition of equipment.

There has been increased emphasis at all government levels on the need for new equipment and training to prepare for terrorist incidents, but the rhetoric does not always translate into actual dollars. For example, 70% of the respondents noted that their budgets have not been affected by the threat of terrorism. Only 15% acknowledged an increase in their budgets; the remaining 15% decreased. In some cases, the dollar amount may not change; the allocation does.

Lt. L. E. Johnson of the Columbia, SC, Police Department, noted that the city's emergency operations budget has increased, while the police and fire departments' shares have decreased. Columbia has been very active in post-9/11 preparedness activities. As Johnson explained, the department's standard operations have changed considerably. It has introduced new antiterrorism training programs, created special units and reallocated funds.

"There is more expenditure of funds originally directed to law enforcement and fire," Johnson said. "Grant funding is not going to end users based on need. It stays at County EMD." Nevertheless, the department has acquired new equipment: gas masks, radiation detection units, face mask respirators, chemical escape suits, hazardous material devices, communications devices and special lighting; and added an explosive detection K-9.

Even so, Johnson does not feel that the department is adequately prepared for terrorism. There are downsides to its preparations, which are not uncommon among agencies currently.

For one thing, the Columbia PD has lost personnel in recent years. Its authorized number of officers is 346; the actual number of sworn officers is 298. …

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