After Mumbai, American Small Towns Revamp Defenses

Richland County APC

The infantry-style terrorist attacks that killed 164 people in Mumbai, India, in November had a profound effect on counter-terrorism planning in the United States. Federal, state and local authorities took a hard look at their existing defenses and, in many cases, found them wanting. Another infantry-style attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, last week only heightened U.S. authorities’ concerns.

In the cities most likely to be targeted — large, symbolic municipalities such as New York — authorities have added military-style combat training to the curriculum of their police academies, in a bid to ensure that street cops are prepared to defend against terrorists armed with assault rifles, grenades and rockets. By the same token, big-city cops are getting heavier weapons and body armor.

Large cities, especially New York and Chicago, are also investing in surveillance systems using networked cameras, intended to help spot attackers early on. Such systems can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, putting them out of reach of smaller municipalities that are also concerned about their vulnerability to infantry assault.

“You don’t have to have these capabilities everywhere in the country,” says James Carafano, an analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation. Big cities are more likely targets and, owing to their terrain, pose unique challenges. Smaller communities can get by with smaller, cheaper technologies, and in some cases can replace hardware with human systems. But the goal is the same: to “harden” a community against infantry assault.

In Richland County, South Carolina, population 360,000, the 550-strong sheriff’s department has just one full-time officer in its Homeland Security division. But all officers receive some counter-terrorism training, and as far as weapons and tools go, the department has “whatever New York or L.A. would have … on a smaller scale,” according to Sheriff Leon Lott. That includes a special weapons team, bomb-disposal equipment, chemical- and biological-weapons detection gear, boats, aircraft and even an Army-surplus Armored Personnel Carrier sporting a .50-caliber machine gun, pictured. “There’s not anything we can’t respond to.”

To catch Mumbai-style attackers before they open fire, Lott says he relies on alert citizens phoning in tips, rather than on sophisticated surveillance systems. “Intelligence is key,” he says. To keep the local network healthy, Richland County Sheriff’s Department representatives attend the meetings of 370 neighborhood groups.

The reliable police presence at these meetings also serves to “build confidence in us, so they know we can deal with” an attack, Lott says. Public communication is vital to preventing widespread panic that might hamper authorities’ response to an attack. “Accurate information serves to protect the public, reassuring them that the government is responding appropriately to the threat or attack,” said Department of Homeland Security Under Secretary Charles Allen.

If prevention fails and an attack occurs, cooperation between the sheriff’s department, other local law enforcement and state and federal forces is paramount, Lott says. To that end, South Carolina, like most states, maintains a “fusion center” where representatives of all levels of government coordinate their actions. This center features prominently in Lott’s frequent “mock-disaster” exercises, which the department launched in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine school shooting. The next such exercise will be based on the Mumbai attacks, Lott says.

Regional cultural differences shape the way Richland County would respond to an armed assault, versus New York City’s likely response. Sebastian D’Souza, a photographer for The Mumbai Mirror newspaper, recalled watching the Mumbai shooters and thinking, “I only wish I had a gun rather than a camera.” The U.S. National Rifle Association and libertarian think-tanks latched onto D’Souza’s comment as a powerful endorsement of their pro-gun lobbying efforts. India, after all, has strict gun-control laws — and so do many large cities in the U.S.

Carafano warns against the NRA’s logic. “Just because they [the Indians] had gun control doesn’t mean we shouldn’t,” he says. “The question of guns or no guns, out of context, is not very fruitful.”

To Lott, it is a fruitful question. “In the South, you have guns. In the North, nobody does. If they [terrorists] did something here, everyone would be running around with hunting rifles.”

This entry was posted in David Axe, English, Terrorism.

4 Responses to After Mumbai, American Small Towns Revamp Defenses

  1. Frosch says:

    Dazu passt auch noch der Artikel aus dem Small Wars Journal: Darin geht’s um die steigende Anzahl von Gewalttaten im Zusammenhang mit Drogen, vor allem im Süden des Landes.
    Es sieht fast so aus als ob sich da so etwas wie eine “Insurgency” entwickelt.

  2. I live in New York and haven’t seen anything like this. They must be very good at hiding.

  3. In an article by Radley Balko, you can read some examples of the downside of the militarisation of police units:

    In my own research, I have collected over 50 examples in which innocent people were killed in raids to enforce warrants for crimes that are either nonviolent or consensual (that is, crimes such as drug use or gambling, in which all parties participate voluntarily). These victims were bystanders, or the police later found no evidence of the crime for which the victim was being investigated. They include Katherine Johnston, a 92-year-old woman killed by an Atlanta narcotics team acting on a bad tip from an informant in 2006; Alberto Sepulveda, an 11-year-old accidentally shot by a California SWAT officer during a 2000 drug raid; and Eurie Stamps, killed in a 2011 raid on his home in Framingham, Mass., when an officer says his gun mistakenly discharged. Mr. Stamps wasn’t a suspect in the investigation.


    Since the 1960s, in response to a range of perceived threats, law-enforcement agencies across the U.S., at every level of government, have been blurring the line between police officer and soldier. Driven by martial rhetoric and the availability of military-style equipment—from bayonets and M-16 rifles to armored personnel carriers—American police forces have often adopted a mind-set previously reserved for the battlefield. The war on drugs and, more recently, post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts have created a new figure on the U.S. scene: the warrior cop—armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and a growing threat to familiar American liberties.


    The country’s first official SWAT team started in the late 1960s in Los Angeles. By 1975, there were approximately 500 such units. Today, there are thousands. According to surveys conducted by the criminologist Peter Kraska of Eastern Kentucky University, just 13% of towns between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team in 1983. By 2005, the figure was up to 80%.

    The number of raids conducted by SWAT-like police units has grown accordingly. In the 1970s, there were just a few hundred a year; by the early 1980s, there were some 3,000 a year. In 2005 (the last year for which Dr. Kraska collected data), there were approximately 50,000 raids. — Radley Balko, “Rise of the Warrior Cop“, The Wall Street Journal, 19.07.2013.

  4. This Is The Terrifying Result Of The Militarization Of Police:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *