For the blog’s next Book Contest, we are giving away Christopher Dickey’s terrific new Securing The City: Inside America’s Best Counterterror Force — The NYPD. Thanks to Dickey and his publisher, Simon & Schuster.
Contest Rules: “Securing The City” provides a great behind-the-scenes look at the anti-terrorism efforts of the New York Police Department which is considered the most effective urban anti-terror operation in the nation. So, to make it easy, enter by sending me [at email@example.com by March 25th] your one favorite thing about New York City. I’ll draw five entries randomly and will send each of the winners a free book.
As far as the book itself, the NYPD is generally tight-lipped about its anti-terror activities so it was quite a coup for Dickey to get such access. And the veteran Newsweek correspondent takes great advantage providing an interesting and fast-paced account about how the Department, led by Commissioner Ray Kelly, has worked to prevent another terror attack on New York. Dickey’s years of experience reporting in the Middle East and Europe make him an excellent person to tell this story.
Much of what Dickey describes about NYPD’s anti-terror efforts is new information which is a credit to his reporting. But I would argue that it also underscores the need for the NYPD to communicate more of what it is doing. I say that for three reasons: First, because it will be important in the event a major terrorist attack (particularly one involving a weapon of mass destruction) occurs that the public knows what to do. In the book, police officials express concern about how people will react in a WMD incident, such as the use of a biological weapon, which would be a huge physical and psychological blow. However, one way to partially mitigate the impact would be to inform citizens about the various threats in advance, and what they will need to do if something happens.
The second reason I would argue for more information is that the police themselves say that they rely on citizens, particularly those immigrant communities, to learn about potential threats. I think the public would be more effective in that job if they knew more. And third, I would argue for more information, because Commissioner Kelly expresses concern about apathy setting in among New Yorkers (and Americans) as we approach eight years since 9/11. His worry is that citizens will not support the type of anti-terror commitment he feels necessary in light of the continuing terrorist threat. I would argue that if the public receives very little information about that threat it is only natural for them, particularly in difficult economic times, to believe that all those terrorism prevention resources are not necessary. As Kelly tells Dickey, “Every day we go without an attack the public becomes more complacent.” To address the complacency problem, I think that Commissioner Kelly and NYPD should find ways to provide the public with more information about the threats without, of course, comprising sources and methods.
I say this both as a citizen of New York and as someone who is involved with preparedness and response as a member of the City’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) who regularly interacts with citizens on the topic. There will always be a tension and balance between informing and frightening the public or giving too much information and not enough. Commissioner Kelly and NYPD have done a great job here in New York. They are a model for the nation. But I do hope they move a little more in the direction of briefing and engaging New Yorkers on their anti-terror efforts in the future.