July 16, 2007

A Tale Of Two Cities

The City Journal has a fascinating look at the counterterrorism operations in the nation's two largest metropolitan areas, New York and Los Angeles. Judith Miller, formerly of the New York Times, compares and contrasts the approaches both take in protecting their residents from terrorist attacks. Differing geography, laws, and culture make the effort unequal in ways that Angelenos may not know -- but which could put them at a much higher risk:

Three time zones, 3,000 miles, and a cultural galaxy apart, New York and Los Angeles face a common threat: along with Washington, D.C., they’re the chief American targets of Islamic terror. And both cities boast top cops, sometime rivals—the cities are fiercely competitive—who know that ensuring that a dog doesn’t bark will determine their legacies. After investing millions of dollars in homeland security, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly of New York and Chief William J. Bratton of L.A. can both claim counterterror successes. What can we learn from their approaches? And will they be able to continue preventing terrorist attacks in their cities?

On the face of it, the nation’s two biggest metropolitan forces seem to have adopted kindred counterterrorism strategies. Both have roving SWAT or “Emergency Service Unit” teams, equipped with gas masks and antidotes to chemical and biological agents. Both have set up “fusion” centers to screen threats and monitor secret intelligence and “open-source” information, including radical Internet sites, and both have started programs to identify and protect likely targets. Both have tried to integrate private security experts into their work. Both conduct surveillance that would have been legally questionable before September 11. Both have sought to enlist support from mainstream Muslims and have encouraged various private firms to report suspicious activity.

Yet despite such similarities, the terror-fighting approaches of New York and L.A., like the cities themselves, reflect very different traditions, styles, and, above all, resources. New York, which knows the price of failure and thus has a heightened “threat perception,” sets the gold standard for counterterrorism—and has the funding and manpower to do it. Kelly, 65, views his highest priority as ensuring that al-Qaida doesn’t hit the city again. “When your city has been attacked, the threat is always with you,” he tells me. Deploying its own informants, undercover terror-busters, and a small army of analysts, New York tries to locate and neutralize pockets of militancy even before potentially violent individuals can form radical cells—a “preventive” approach, as Kelly calls it, that is the most effective way that police departments, small or large, can help fight terror.

In L.A., a city that has never been attacked, terrorism is a less pressing concern than gang violence and other crime. Lacking the political incentive, and hence the resources, to wage his own war on terror, Bratton, 59, has instead pooled scarce funds, manpower, and information with federal and other agencies—an approach that federal officials hold up as a model for police departments that can’t afford New York’s investment.

New York City, as might be expected, reacted to 9/11 by creating almost a national system of defense and intelligence. They spent $200 million on intel operations, and even started posting agents abroad to investigate connections to radical groups in their jurisdiction. The city already had a large police force, with over 36,000 sworn officers and more than 14,000 civilian employees. This made it easier to create a large intelligence office and to commit serious resources to it -- even to the point where its operation created conflict with the FBI for its first few years, which has only recently abated.

Los Angeles presents many more obstacles to counterterrorism, especially in the area of intelligence. Thanks to abuses by the LAPD in the past in surveilling citizens, the city and state has tough laws restricting local police and intel operations. Even more significantly, though, the LAPD is completely underresourced, and jurisdictional lines create confusion. Unlike New York, whose 36,000 officers cover a relatives moderate area, the LAPD has 450 square miles to protect. The county sheriff's department, whose jurisdictional areas entwine with the LAPD, has more sworn officers than the LAPD -- sixteen thousand to twelve thousand. As Miller notes, the Highway Patrol has jurisdiction of all the freeways in California, and the ports have their own police department.

Miller reports that the LAPD's leadership has done its best to plan around the shortcomings. However, at some point there is no substitute for boots on the ground, a fact that Angelenos know from the gang warfare constantly conducted there. Los Angeles County had as many people murdered in the three years prior to 9/11 as New York did on 9/11 itself, and over 40% of those were gang-related. Over 3,000 gang-related murders took place between 1995 and 2000. With that kind of blood on the streets, resources will get directed to where the bleeding is and not where it might be.

Be sure to read all of Miller's excellent report. New York has done a good job in securing the city. While the LAPD and LASD have done the best they can, the citizens of Southern California had better start considering giving them the resources and the authority they need to properly protect the area from terrorist threats.


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Comments (13)

Posted by The Yell | July 16, 2007 7:53 AM

Unless that $200 million includes a network of AAA batteries, NY can't stop another 9/11-style attack mounted from Boston Airport.

Posted by Tom Shipley | July 16, 2007 8:09 AM

who know that ensuring that a dog doesn’t bark will determine their legacies.

I haven't heard this analogy before. It's pretty good.

Posted by harleycon5 | July 16, 2007 8:27 AM

What you really have here is a test of the two philosophies that are in play worldwide; The "Bush Doctrine" which says that a proactive "hit them before they hit us" approach, versus the pre-9/11 Clinton "Legal approach".

I am sure that this is not the intent of either city, since NYC certainly would never do anything seen as connected to GW, but indeed in practice this is the case. And it has been the most effective approach.

Obviously, LA does not have the resources that NYC does, but their PC philosophies have yet to be shaken to the point of dealing at such a level as well.

Current intel is pointing toward Al Qaeda moving their agents across the weak southern border, facilitated by South American gangs (MS13?). Certainly, we cannot downplay the danger we are exposing ourselves to via our continued apathy about illegal immigration.

Gangs, drugs, and in the end, Terrorism will interlink in the next major attack on America. We must drive the locusts from our land before this happens by any means possible.

Also, expect a coordinated attack on multiple soft targets such as dept stores, malls, and sporting events on the same day. This will likely be the way they hit us for maximum impact with limited resources.

Be ever vigilant.

Posted by docjim505 | July 16, 2007 8:50 AM

Los Angeles County had as many people murdered in the three years prior to 9/11 as New York did on 9/11 itself, and over 40% of those were gang-related. Over 3,000 gang-related murders took place between 1995 and 2000. With that kind of blood on the streets, resources will get directed to where the bleeding is and not where it might be.

I don't see why one focus has to completely replace another. Why can't an efficient police department handle both gang violence and the possibility of a terrorist attack? Saying that they can't is rather akin to saying that the cops can't catch thieves because they're too busy catching rapists.

I think the real crux of LA's "problem" is this:

Thanks to abuses by the LAPD in the past in surveilling citizens, the city and state has tough laws restricting local police and intel operations.

Obviously, we don't want the police to abuse their power and authority. I don't want another terrorist attack on the United States, but I also don't want to live in a 1984-style police state, either. The people of LA (and, for that matter, many other cities and counties across the country) need to reevaluate the rules under which their police, sheriffs, and other law enforcement operate. They also need to take strong, positive steps to weed out the bad apples among their law officers rather than shackle all the good cops with a lot of regulations that prevent them from fulfilling their duty:

1. Serve the public trust

2. Protect the innocent

3. Uphold the law (*)


(*) Whether or not you enjoy the movie "Robocop", I don't think that the duties of police officers have ever been more clearly and concisely stated.

Posted by Barnestormer | July 16, 2007 9:08 AM

"Unlike New York, whose 36,000 officers cover a relatives (sic) moderate area, the LAPD has 450 square miles to protect." CE

Not that police penetration is necessarily the most important factor, but shouldn't height (and depth, for that matter--think Chicago's deep tunnel system, subways or the first point of attack on the WTC) be included in the metric; i.e., target volume? That they were the twin towers is no inconsequential matter.

Posted by Lew | July 16, 2007 9:11 AM

It's the difference between an offensive strategy and a defensive strategy. New York has experienced the consequences of a defensive strategy, and that is everything. It determines priorities and resource deployment and the overall attitude toward either solving the problem or managing it.

Ironically, one of the inevitable consequences of the defensive strategy is that the enemy is in ultimate control of how long the threat continues, and the longer the threat lasts the more damage is done to our civil liberties at home. "Time in peril" is historically the great driver of government authority over our freedoms, because we rightly depend on the first legitimate function of government; to provide the shield of security. And its that natural dependence that, over long periods under threat, erodes and makes more permanent our abdication of civil rights and liberties.

And therein lies the great irony; that those who most vociferously proclaim their great concern for the loss of our civic freedoms at home, are the very same advocates who press the inherently defensive "police" model of terrorism prevention upon us. By constantly advocating the strategic option most likely to maximize "time in peril", they noisily advocate the very strategy most likely to result in their own nightmares.

Posted by Carol Herman | July 16, 2007 9:40 AM

The New York Post is running this article, as well, today.

Judith Miller is an excellent investigative reporter. And, here, you can see that the problems with the FBI and CIA, as spoilers, is something the NYPD had to work around. With the Feds flexing as much muscle as possible.

Too bad for us that the Feds tend to get in the way.

While the NYPD has found solutions.

After you read Miller's piece, you realize the New Yuk Times decided it didn't want to report anything about the Big Apple, accurately. And, Miller is one talented lady. That she appeared like a ditz during the Libby trial?

Well, when you read THIS PIECE you begin to understand HOW people can work around the crazy Feds, and their propensity to do harms; in the name of exercising "powers."

And, yes, New York City is safer for it. Shows ya. The system whereby a STATE can protect itself works wonders. When the Feds bungle their own work products.

Someday? The Libby trial, and the Conrad Black trial, will be considered poor exercises in Fed powers, as well.

Glad Judith Miller has writing gigs.

Posted by Papa Ray | July 16, 2007 10:10 AM

While I enjoy living in a midsized city (some would say small) I hear complaints from my buds in the City Police and the County Sheriff's Dept.

They range from not enough "boots on the ground", to not enough money for themselves and for re-enforcements, equipment and additional programs to "protect and serve".

I can only imagine what it is like in large cities like Dallas and Houston.

Well, I don't have to imagine, all I need to do is look at their newspaper websites, and it is bad, bad, bad.

Dallas has several things in common with LA. Dallas is a majority Mexican and "other" nationality city, with an estimated 30 percent of that group of citizens being illegals.

While there is plenty of crime in both cities and the majority of the crimes being commited by Mexicans and other immigrants, both legal and illegal, neither city is making a determined effort to deport illegals of any nationality.

Why, because their city and county politicians do not want to get rid of the illegals, in fact they put out the welcome mat for more.

What is a police chief or county sheriff to do?

Just go with the flow I would guess.

Papa Ray
West Texas (part of northern Mexico)

Posted by Carol Herman | July 16, 2007 10:23 AM

In the world of targets, Japan just had an earth quake, that shook up its nuclear power plant pretty badly. This is a natural event. And, it shows you that defenses are built into the planning of these structures. Not everything in the world is equally vulnerable.

As to Los Angeles, as a "target area," I'd presume that New York has it tougher, because it's more concentrated. Buildings that go up high, can produce a major catastrophe in one blow.

As to threats to malls and such; they have to deal with the everyday nuts; and lousy drivers. So their systems are constantly threatened.

As I am sure, so are Disney's. Doesn't mean that security just sits and waits. Because the best security systems in the world are on-going systems, now improved with data-mining of computer stored information. If you think it's easy for muslems to dream something up, and then just carry it out; I'd direct you to look at London. And, Glasgow. Where, in London, one bomb car was towed! Because? Well, police, it seems, are notoriously efficient with parking tickets.

But if you look at the Glasgow doctors, and what they attempted; what you'd learn is how fast we got pictures. People, today, with cell phones, can do video on the spot. You even saw the locals on TV. (Where I learned no all English that's spoken is all that easy to understand.) But that's the nature of things in this world.

Will there be more Mideastern doctors taking a whack at the mullah's ball? How should I know?

But there's something that does get expressed when failure happens. And, that's ridicule shows up. As to the muzzy's, they can't handle ridicule. So fire away.

Posted by David M | July 16, 2007 11:24 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 07/16/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by Del Dolemonte | July 16, 2007 11:33 AM

Believe it or not, some of Kelley's success in NY City is in fact due to...Bratton. As NYC Police Commissioner under Rudy, Bratton instituted the CompStat crime tracking system and also hired more cops.

Posted by viking01 | July 16, 2007 1:09 PM

The greatest challenge to the LAPD must be getting endless reports of people behaving oddly and differentiating those from the Los Angeles culture at large.

Posted by lexhamfox | July 16, 2007 2:17 PM

"It's the difference between an offensive strategy and a defensive strategy."

Err no it is not. It is a difference in resources. Read the full article and you can see that the restraint is resources rather than ideology as you and some others have suggested here. One would hope that the Federal agencies in LA help to fill the gap and provide more of the preventative resources for the LA sprawl.