JOSEPH R. KOVEL: Being vigilant to protect public safety
It has been nearly two decades since terrorists trained in Perry County to detonate a bomb at the World Trade Center in 1993. The bomb would kill six people and injure more than 1,000.
A decade later, terrorists hijacked planes, with one crashing in Shanksville after heroic Americans forced the plane to the ground. Nearly 3,000 were killed and 6,000 more injured in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
In the days and months after Sept. 11, the term “homeland security” was born. Local, state and federal governments placed a priority on protecting their citizens. But 10 years can be a long time, and gradually we’ve seen our focus lessen. It’s understandable because the longer we go between attacks, the safer we feel. That’s a credit to so many who work to protect us each and every day.
The Boston Marathon bombing is a sad, unfortunate reminder that, as a society, we must remain vigilant and prepared to protect our homeland.
I happened to be in Boston with my wife during the bombing. We were blocks away and never in danger as far as we can tell, but the impact it had on America’s sense of safety and security is tangible.
It has re-focused Americans on the concept of homeland security, and rightly so.
Pennsylvania has always been home to people and professionals who take law enforcement and the safety of its citizens seriously. In the months after the Sept. 11 attacks, Gov. Mark Schweiker called for and the General Assembly delivered on legislation to hire 100 additional state troopers. The Office of Homeland Security was created and a Security Council convened to implement the state’s $200 million investment in state security.
Local governments formed terrorism task forces in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, nine regional counter-terrorism task forces and community response teams.
You would have been hard-pressed to find a country like the United States and a state like Pennsylvania more prepared to deal with the post-Sept. 11 world.
Yet, as time passes and bad memories fade, an economic recession has gradually changed our governmental focus.
Issues with the sequester in Washington are hurting criminal justice funding across the country, and prior to the sequester, funding already had been cut 43 percent since 2010.
Local municipalities are increasingly doing away with their police forces, citing budget costs. Since 2012, more than 20 Pennsylvania municipalities have cut or eliminated their police forces, leaving primary law enforcement to the Pennsylvania State Police. Although the state police is 500 troopers short of its complement with more retirements expected this year, municipalities know the law. Pennsylvania doesn’t require municipalities to pay for the state police coverage to their communities even though Pennsylvania is facing its worst shortage of troopers in years.
Thanks to Gov. Tom Corbett, two new cadet classes are coming this year, but many more are needed to reach full complement. Until that happens, local municipalities that eliminated their police departments can only hope the state police can continue to do more with less.
I have no doubt that leaders at all levels of government want to do everything they can to protect their fellow Americans. It is time to rededicate ourselves with the same commitment we showed in the days after Sept. 11. The brutal attack on Boston should serve as a reminder to local, state and the federal governments that the threat of attack is still very real, and we must be prepared.
Providing for the public safety is the core requirement of government. For the safety of all Pennsylvanians, let’s not forget the horrible lessons we’ve been taught.
Joseph R. Kovel is president of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association.