Another sad commemoration of the 9/11 tragedy is upon us again. As a responder under a mutual aid agreement NYPD has with my small department just north of New York City, I will never forget that day. I will never forget the sinking in the pit of my stomach as five from my village in Westchester County headed into the City, a miasma of smoke and horror rising from piles of rubble.
I will also never forget passing through the Bronx and seeing scores of ambulances and other emergency vehicles standing at the ready, waiting for the “go” that never came. There was no one to save. There was only horror, toxic dust… Only that and that indomitable spirit that is quintessentially American and totally New York shown by the flag standing atop the ashes. Ground Zero, Shanksville, and the Pentagon; we remember all our countrymen and women who perished this day, some bravely crashing a plane to avoid further carnage. Let’s roll!
We are changed forever. We are changed, but not without hope. Sometimes I worry that our vigilance is slightly diminished. I remember when every first responder knew exactly where his or her protective gear was during that terrible time. Recently, an LEO admitted to me that he wasn’t even sure where his gas mask WAS.
Even with the terror risk a little less on the forefront, military and civil authorities have been successful. NYPD has a large anti-terror unit with city police officers based out of many other countries, including Great Britain and Israel. The Department of Homeland Security was created. Law enforcement has become more adept in sharing information among federal, state, and local agencies. Fusion Centers have come to the forefront since 9/11.
We have not had another terror incident in the Homeland. Citizens have become vigilant, as have first responders. The Heritage Foundation reports some 50 foiled terror incidents in these years since Ground Zero. New York City Police have their own numbers. New Jersey State troopers making a routine traffic stop interfered with a terror plot involving Fort Dix. A Times Square t-shirt vendor, Aliou Niasse, a Muslim immigrant from Senegal, alerted police to a suspicious car and saved many in his adopted country. The admonition is the same today, “If you see something, say something.”
Thousands of lives were lost that day. Let us remember them today. We must not forget that numerous first responders have since lost their lives from cancer and respiratory ailments sustained during the recovery. One of those police officers was a colleague who traveled with me to Ground Zero on those terrible first nights. We must have good thoughts for those who struggle with lives affected by the illnesses contracted at Ground Zero and the children left without a mother or father.
This nation continually prepares to overcome what tomorrow may bring. September 11, 2001 is the second time our homeland was attacked. The date of 9/11 will live in infamy. We must never forget.
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Jim Gaffney, MPA is LET’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years in varying capacities, including patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant, PIO, and executive officer. He is a member of ILEETA, IACP, and the IACSP. Jim received the Medal of Honor upon graduating from Iona College. He then completed a two-year study evaluating the Victim-Offender Overlap. Jim graduated Magna Cum Laude upon receiving his Master of Science in Public Administration. Jim mentors the next generation of LEOs by teaching university-level criminal justice courses as an adjunct professor in the New York City area.