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.