It was an iconic image that caught the eyes of all who were watching from around the world: an Oklahoma City police car with the words “We Will Never Forget” written in bold letters across the back window. That cruiser sat parked outside the perimeter of the destruction that, only hours before, was the Oklahoma City federal building.
“We Will Never Forget.” It was a pledge and a reminder. Now as we mourn the dead and pray for the gravely injured from the Boston bombing, and mark the 18th anniversary of the worst domestic terrorist attack in the U.S., are we doing all we can to prevent it from happening again?
The best terrorism fighters are the officers on the street. They know their communities. They know their citizens and they know when something is wrong. They are 800,000 strong, and only they have the broad public safety mandate to simply drive around and look for things. A study by the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions examined terrorism cases investigated by the FBI over a 10-year period. In more than 75 percent of the cases, information leading investigators to terrorism plans came from citizens and cops on the beat.
Our officers must stay sharp, not only in the basic tactics of police work, but also in new tactics to predict our adversaries' behaviors by outthinking the terrorists and other criminals.
In almost every mass shooting, bombing or other terrorist event, perpetrators left clues for citizens and law enforcement to their imminent crimes. The perpetrators said, wrote or did something that could have been used to intervene and prevent the crime. Additionally, they left a trail of clues that could have helped connect the dots and expose their plans. These are invaluable lessons for our officers who are on the streets every day, but that's exactly the type of training that is often not applied or provided. Knowing how to connect with the community and knowing what to do with those clues is paramount to ensuring our communities are safer.
Sadly, the national financial landscape is forcing law enforcement agencies to downsize and reallocate limited resources just to keep the semblance of a police force. Dozens of departments have been unable to accept our free training because the costs and disruption to schedules by taking a few officers off the streets for a few short hours would be overwhelming.
In the days following the Oklahoma City bombing, family members and survivors created the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism to keep terrorism and mass murder from touching communities again. Do we still hold true to our pledge to “never forget”?
Cid is executive director of the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism in Oklahoma City.