9/11 changed culture, attitude of street cops, Rowan study finds

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While new police agencies, protocols and procedures have been established to fight terrorism, one of the most significant changes in policing since 9/11 may be how the nation's lowest ranking officers

While new police agencies, protocols and procedures have been established to fight terrorism, one of the most significant changes in policing since 9/11 may be how the nation's lowest ranking officers approach their daily patrols, according to a new Rowan University study.

In a survey of 21 officers at large, mid-sized and small police departments, the majority of officers ranging in rank from patrolman to deputy chief said they had seen changes in their departments since 9/11.

But the most significant, across-the-board change was in how the junior officers approached and thought about their jobs, according to study co-author Allan Jiao, a policing expert and chair of Rowan's Law & Justice Studies department.

"It was the street officers who expressed significant changes in their hearts and minds," Jiao said of the study, which will be published this academic year in Policing and Society: An International Journal of Research and Policy. Harry Rhea, a visiting professor of Law & Justice Studies at Rowan, is the study's co-author.

"The street officers told us that they see themselves as first responders. The first responders are the people who lost their lives on 9/11. They feel they would be most impacted by those events. So, on a daily basis, they look at different places now?and are more observant with places they did not used to pay attention to."

Officers, Jiao said, described themselves as being "more conscious of intelligence, more willing to share information, and more willing to work with others in their department or other agencies" since 9/11.

But the cultural and attitudinal changes, Jiao stressed, did not come from organizational changes or as edicts from superiors.

"These mindset changes are not because of police management," Jiao said. "More officers with fewer years of service, at lower ranks, and in basic police units feel that their mindsets or culture have changed since 9/11 than officers with over 20 years of service, above the rank of sergeant, and serving in managerial and administrative positions.

"The higher level officers were less interested in change," Jiao continued. "This is a very significant, very surprising finding. It means, perhaps, that police management is either underestimating or not taking advantage of the initiative of the lower officers."

Generally, officers "do not see a real, closer inter-agency relationship developed or developing," Jiao said. "Officers as a whole do not feel genuine changes have occurred in their organizational structure and operations. And most officers do not feel they are well prepared to respond to another terrorist attack, either."

One criticism of public safety responses during 9/11 was that federal and state authorities did not work in concert with local police before or during the crisis, either through the integration of information or intelligence. Today, five years after 9/11, some progress has been made, due to a push at the federal level, Jiao said. But the nation is light years away from having an integrated policing system, he added.

"After 9/11, we have witnessed, only on a rather limited scale, the change of a localized police system into an integrated federal, state and local policing framework," Jiao said. "There is more sharing of information, more intelligence sharing. But not many joint operations. The process for integration was filled with bureaucratic hurdles, inter-agency frictions, and growing pains.

"It's clear that the integration of police cannot be accomplished with only structural, operational and policy changes. It must be accompanied with sweeping philosophical changes.

"There's still the mindset of 'That's my jurisdiction,'" Jiao said. "Historically, policing doesn't change very much. By and large, the culture stays the same."

If anything, Jiao noted, 9/11 helped reinforce "the traditional control elements of the military model of police organization," rather than community policing, which was the focus of efforts before the terrorist attacks.

"The police have not changed," Jiao said. "Instead, they have reinforced the traditional, bureaucratic professional crime-fighting model. Some believe the concern over terrorism has resulted in law enforcement agencies placing greater emphasis on aggressive policing, rather than community policing tactics."

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