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Richmond Police Mobilize to Fight Terrorism on Land and Sea
October 4, 2002
If you had nothing better to do than watch the October 1 City Council meeting, and if you tuned in early for the Study Session, you would have heard a presentation on how Richmond was contributing to America’s homeland security. The police chief and mayor had just returned empty handed from several days in Washington DC looking for a handout to bolster America’s “first responders to terrorism,” but that did not deter Richmond’s dedication to the cause.

Not to worry. Richmond has a comprehensive program in place and has mobilized to protect our shores from terrorists. The Police Department has deputized 32 volunteers to patrol our 32 miles of shoreline, and Richmond’s entire navy is coordinating coastal protection and boat patrols with the U.S. Coast Guard. We even saw a demonstration of a wireless computer interface that could actually produce an aerial photo of the Chevron-Texaco refinery and draw a circle around a designated spot – all of this free from the U.S. Government.

Why would a terrorist be interested in Richmond? The Chevron-Texaco refinery, of course. Is the refinery secure? Of course not. Anyone can scramble over, under or through the surrounding chain link fence almost anywhere or any time and amble freely through the pipes and tanks. Not to mention sidling up to a tanker at the Long Wharf.  Is it a cash-strapped City’s job to secure a facility owned by a multi-national corporation worth $100 billion that makes products consumed all over the western United States? Good question.

Let’s look at this another way. What are the real threats to Americans – and to Richmond residents? In a one-time event, somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 people were killed in the 9/11 terrorist acts. In recent years, about 18,000 Americans die each year from homicides, 16,000 from illegal drug use, and 40,000 in vehicle accidents. Some 5,000 pedestrian are run over and killed each year. Vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for people ages 6-27. All in all, Americans suffer annually from 6.3 million crimes of violence and 19.3 million property crimes. But wait, there’s more. Tobacco kills 500,000 Americans each year and alcohol abuse 100,000. Some 30,000 to 40,000 Americans even take themselves out via suicide.

In Richmond, some 20-40 people die each year from homicides. Two thirds through this year, Richmond’s  homicide count has already surpassed last year. There are 40-50 rapes, 400-500 robberies and 500-700 aggravated assaults annually. Not to mention over a thousand burglaries. Richmond has the seventh highest pedestrian fatality rate of any city in the State of California.

So why the big focus on homeland security? What Richmond needs, as does most of America, is home security. After hearing about the volunteer shore patrol, Councilman Rogers asked how many volunteers were patrolling the high crime neighborhoods of southwest Richmond. The answer: “None, but we are thinking about it.

All this isn’t to say that our City government, especially our public safety units, should not be fully prepared to respond to any catastrophic event. An earthquake or an industrial explosion can happen, and indeed has happened. We have a siren test one day every month to remind us what a dangerous area we live in – and that doesn’t mean exposure to terrorism. If we are lucky, those sirens might even go off in a real emergency. Responding, however, is different from defending – which in my opinion is largely a distraction we cannot afford for our local police.

Note the following article from TomPaine.Common Sense http://www.tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/6465:

Andy Of Mayberry Morphs Into Robocop 
Militarization Of Police Forces Begets Policy Of 'Vaporize' Not 'Mirandize'

As a former cop, I've combed through the extensive coverage of the War on Terror for discussion about its impact on domestic policing. I haven't found much about the inevitable consequences of this conflict on the local departments that police our daily lives.

It is, after all, a categorically different experience to be greeted at your local airport by an M-16-toting National Guardsman rather than a skycap.

Americans have always been ambivalent about law enforcement. As citizens, we expect locally controlled, populist officials who are responsive to our communities and mindful of our rights. When victimized, however, we demand coolly efficient professionals to ruthlessly enforce the letter of the law. Traditionally, then, the officer's role was an uneasy compromise between Andy of Mayberry and Robocop. To understand how the threat of terrorism has altered this equation, a little background information is necessary.

In 1878, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act, making it illegal to use federal troops to enforce domestic law. This Act, which formally ended the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction, served to codify the venerable American custom of civilian police. Military measures were reserved for foreign threats, while the police handled domestic crime.

That comfortable arrangement lasted until the '60s when local cops found themselves overwhelmed by urban riots. In response, larger departments formed paramilitary police units (PPUs). These elite squads were trained and equipped along military guidelines to restore order not by arresting individual offenders, but by employing infantry tactics on a hostile population. The movement towards militarization gained further momentum during the post-Vietnam era. With demand for conventional arms reduced by the war's end, defense contractors began to market dual-use technologies that featured both military and civilian applications. Assault rifles and armored personnel carriers thus became standard fare in major police agencies.

The missions of the Department of Defense and domestic police further merged when the Reagan administration declared war on drugs. Suddenly, we were at war with a commodity, and your dope-smoking neighbor was reclassified from a local nuisance to a national security threat.

In his book, Militarizing the American Criminal Justice System, criminology professor Peter Kraska notes that by 1995, "89 percent of police departments serving populations of 50,000 or more had a PPU" -- a 157 percent increase over 1985. "Police reported 29,962 paramilitary deployments in 1995, a 939 percent increase over the 2,884 call-outs of 1980." And that was before the War on Terror effectively eliminated the distinction between national defense and domestic law enforcement.

Because the current enemy is an abstraction, military and police objectives have blurred into an all-encompassing -- but ill-defined -- effort to provide for "homeland security."

Though the military profile of the modern cop evolved in response to clear and present dangers, the transformation entails potential hazard. In 1997, a Marine rifle team acting in support of the Border Patrol inadvertently shot and killed an 18-year old goat herder in Texas. Remarking on that tragic mistake, Lawrence Korb, assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, observed, "The military, to put it bluntly, is trained to vaporize, not Mirandize."

Step away from that pie, Aunt Bea, and assume the position.