A few weeks ago I wrote about my family’s impending trip to New York City for the Thanksgiving Day parade. I said that I was confident that the NYPD would provide the proper protection for the crowds of people who would be traveling to the city to celebrate the holiday.
I am very happy to report that everything went very well. The weather was perfect and the atmosphere around the city did not feel dangerous at all, in fact it was just the opposite.
We took a train into Penn Station where we saw lots and lots of cops, including quite a few of the counter terrorism officers in full battle gear to include automatic weapons. In addition to the police officers there were also men and women in what appeared to be military uniforms carrying side arms. The overall effect of this display of manpower and firepower was- comforting!
I was relieved to see the outward precautions the NYPD had taken to keep everyone safe, including me and my family. As an experienced cop I was also aware of all the undercover officers that seemed to be everywhere; watching the crowds as they moved about. It was clear to me that if anyone popped up with evil intent, they would be dealt with very quickly and very completely.
Even my wife and kids said they felt really safe with all the officers on hand. I was glad they felt that way so they could enjoy the day and the parade. What I didn’t say to them was that while the outward display of police power undoubtedly provided a tremendous deterrent to anyone who had any ideas of attacking the crowds, it was not 100% safe; that’s the reality of the new world we live in.
If someone, a terrorist, wants to attack innocent people, they can do it. It only takes a few seconds to pull a gun and start shooting or toss a pipe bomb into a crowd.
So why then don’t they do it more often?
I believe that in the past what kept these lone wolves from striking out was the threat that they would be eliminated. Understanding that you might be able to get a few shots off, but in short order a cop will react and take you out is a sobering thought, even to a dedicated killer. Sending your message and striking out for your beliefs sounds great, but actually doing it knowing you will most likely be killed in the effort seems to have given many would be terrorists pause, and dampened their desire to follow through on their cause. That helps us in the longer run, especially when they see displays of power such as the NYPD showed the world on Thanksgiving.
So the next question has to be asked: if seeing the police in our big cities is a deterrent to a potential terrorist where will they strike?
I think we all got our answer last week when the husband and wife team attacked a group of innocent people celebrating at a Christmas party in San Bernardino California.
In the news coverage we saw the officers of the San Bernardino Police Department perform beautifully in their response to this horrific and cowardly explosion of violence. They stepped up and located the terrorists after they fled, then faced the killers and dispatched them professionally preventing any further carnage.
San Bernardino PD did this with the officers that wear their uniform, patrol their streets and answer the calls of the community; that’s what was so amazing. These officers are like the officers in all of our communities. They come to work each day to serve the public by conducting traffic posts, investigating accidents and thefts, answering alarms and arresting shoplifters. All of these tasks are common to every agency and while nothing in police work is routine, they are the nuts and bolts of what most cops do the majority of the time they are on duty.
Unlike TV shows, police work is not all gun fights, wrestling matches and catching robbers. Most of it is service work; helping individual citizens as they go about their lives, finding lost kids or issuing those annoying traffic tickets no one likes.
But on that day, the game changed. The level of danger went off the charts. The potential that many of the officers could have been killed was not only possible, it became likely. They were dealing with trained, dedicated terrorists who were armed with weapons, ammunition, explosives and an ample supply of hatred for all of us.
We should all be proud of those officers, they stood in the breach, their lives on the line and fought for everyone; because of their training, bravery, dedication to duty and the grace of God they won. On that day the evil came to San Bernardino, who knows where it will show up tomorrow.
The obvious question that comes next is: Are our officers ready to respond to a similar event?
Do they have the equipment they need? Do they have the training they need? And do they have our support and respect. Besides the fact that our cops go out every day to serve us and our communities, they may be called on to stand tall in the face of a danger greater than anything we have ever had to face before.
Having had the honor of working with police officers from all over the country I can tell you that no matter what you may think about police officers, they are all prepared to do their duty when the time comes. And like that San Bernardino officer that told the people he was leading out of the building where the killers had taken so many lives- “I will take the bullet before you do”, our cops are prepared to do the same thing. For that they deserve our respect.
And finally I want to address another topic that was raging only a few months ago: Why do the cops need all this military equipment? Armored cars and assault rifles.
The events in San Bernardino should have answered that once and for all, and that is the point of this column. We are at war with people who want to kill us; with people who are not concerned with “Rules of war” or political correctness. The people we must prepare for are not worried about collateral damage; in fact they look to increase our collateral damage. They will attack us at work, in school, where we live and where we shop. Our police need the right tools so they can respond properly and safely when they are called on to do so. The equipment might look scary, but it is vital that the cops who protect us have what they need to get the job done.
The horrors of terrorism are now a part of our lives. We must be prepared to respond both personally and as a community.
We can prepare ourselves to respond by taking the time to be more aware of our surroundings, pay attention to what’s going on and look for suspicious packages and bags. If we see something we should say something, and we should live our lives, not in fear, but boldly with courage.
Let me know what you think.