A Shift in Priorities

Officer Chris Solberg of the California Highway Patrol's San Bernardino office used to spend a good deal of time responding to traffic accidents and patrolling state highways and county pockets for speeding motorists - until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon.

Now, he spends his days guarding the state government building at E and Fourth streets and the Devil Canyon Power Plant, both in San Bernardino.

Public safety agencies from the FBI to the smallest volunteer fire departments have been dramatically changed by 9/11 and the steps taken at all levels to try to keep it from happening again. And individual police, firefighters and health workers see their jobs in a new light.

"The major concern would be a bombing," Solberg said. "The ability to make (bombs) is so easy. All you have to do is go to the Internet. Just type in `How to make a bomb.' "

Solberg is one of those who takes a new approach to the job. He looks at the bigger picture of what could happen to the city's water supply, government buildings or other institutions should terrorists strike.

And while a terrorist strike is less common in a city like San Bernardino as opposed to a more densely populated metropolitan area like Los Angeles, Solberg's duties illustrate how 9/11 shaped the way law enforcement does business and how police officers view the nature of their work.

"You look at freeways differently, you look at buildings differently the layout of the city. I've learned the side streets better in the last couple of years," Solberg said. "We are doing more proactive security since 9/11, whereas before we would respond."

The Devil Canyon Power Plant supplies water to residents throughout the Inland Empire and fills Perris Lake, Solberg said. Planes and helicopters fly above regularly to make sure there are no pedestrians or suspicious vehicles on the sprawling property in the hills behind Cal State San Bernardino.

"There's not supposed to be anybody over there. There should not be one pedestrian in that area. If something is not marked, then immediately that's called in and we respond out there," Solberg said.

Solberg is one example of counterterrorism at work at the local level.

But in dollars and cents, the impact of 9/11 has affected law enforcement in different ways at all levels.

Over the last five years, the FBI's budget nearly doubled from $3.2 billion in 2001 to $5.7 billion in 2006. Nearly 6,700 new positions have been created to combat terrorism, according to U.S. Department of Justice data. The sweeping changes include an increased number of special agents assigned to counterterrorism, a doubling of intelligence analysts to 485 and the tripling of linguists to 700.

At the local level, San Bernardino County has been granted $21.1 million in federal homeland security grants since 9/11, and $15.3 million in grants related to health services.

That's $36.4 million to buy equipment, protective gear, vehicles and software to improve the region's ability to deal with an attack or disaster.

"We can respond better. We can respond faster," county Health Officer Eric Frykman said.

For example, the county is getting a database that will take nearly real-time information from ambulances and make it available to officials to allow them to spot problems sooner.

If there's a sudden rash of calls with victims suffering from the same symptoms, that could indicate a bioterror attack or even a natural epidemic such as the much-feared avian flu.

It's also brought agencies closer in planning and coordination.

Service groups, churches, private medical clinics and others need to be brought aboard because every one could be affected, Frykman said.

A handful of major metropolitan areas in the state like Los Angeles and the Bay Area can apply directly to the federal government for money.

Otherwise, the money is funneled through the Governor's Office of Homeland Security.

Each county sets up a group made up of law enforcement, fire and health officials to decide how the money should be spent.

Purchases that have a regional benefit get priority.

"The Homeland Security dollars have greatly enhanced our ability to be prepared for an event," said Denise Benson, manager for the San Bernardino County Fire Department's Office of Emergency Services.

The county is planning a large, full-scale training exercise soon, involving hundreds of people. Without Homeland Security money, the exercise would be impossible, she said.

The county has bought communications vehicles, hazardous materials vehicles, protective gear including suits, masks and boots, satellite phones and computers among other things, she said.

"It's basically to enhance our first responder capability," Benson said.

Ontario International Airport has spent more than $28 million in salaries, equipment and infrastructure relating to security since 9/11. Projects under way, including the replacement of baggage screening equipment, perimeter fencing and surveillance cameras are projected to cost $744 million throughout Los Angeles World Airports.

"Our infrastructure, security and safety personnel response has definitely changed," said Ontario International spokeswoman Maria Tesoro-Fermin.

The Transportation Security Administration reimbursed the Ontario airport more than $500,000 to purchase bomb-sniffing dogs and train officers to handle them, Tesoro-Fermin said.

Changes made after the terrorist attacks also rippled to local law enforcement agencies.

"I think the issue before was whether law enforcement was connecting the dots at the local, state and federal level. There are information clearinghouses today that were not clearly identified before," said Ontario police Lt. John Evans.

The tips local law enforcement has sent to state and federal agencies can range anywhere from money laundering to theft of explosives, Evans said.

The San Bernardino Police Department has received about $750,000 in the last five years for equipment and training in counterterrorism, and every officer in the department has gone through some sort of counterterrorism training, Lt. Mark Garcia said.

A detective has been assigned to a joint terrorism task force and a lieutenant has oversight of all homeland security issues in the city, making sure officers are briefed about potential threat assessments and have the right training and gear, Garcia said.

Most of the training has been done in-house, and federal officials have also come to the department to train officers on incident command systems, Garcia said.

In terms of policing culture, not much has changed.

"Obviously, it requires us to be more diligent about potential targets," Garcia said.

While the scope of police work at the street level has remained pretty much status quo, new law enforcement tools have been introduced that have gotten a warm reception.

Redlands Police Chief Jim Bueermann is enthusiastic about the imminent launching of the Red Channel, a countywide radio communications system that will link law enforcement personnel from the West End to the eastern reaches.

Theoretically the system, purchased by local and county agencies pooling their federal anti-terror grants, will allow instant communications in the event of a terror attack anywhere in the county.

Practically, it will mostly be used to combat old-fashioned crimes like bank robberies, kidnappings and drug trafficking that cross local jurisdictions.

Before 9/11, most federal money was directed toward community policing programs. Now, it goes to disaster preparedness.

Therein lies the gift and the curse of local law enforcers in the post 9/11 era: They get some anti-terror funding, but with stipulations to direct it toward reacting to crises that may never materialize.

"My biggest concern is how we balance the need for enhancing our domestic security while not losing sight of the notion of community policing," Bueermann said. "We can't lose sight of the gains of trust between America's local law enforcers and police and the communities we serve."

In San Bernardino, Police Chief Michael Billdt has seen a similar shift in his department less money for community policing and more for equipment and training.

But Billdt is less conflicted than his Redlands counterpart. He said the shift is necessary in a world fraught with danger and that his department, with federal help, is better equipped than before to deal with it.

"There are terrorist elements in our society," Billdt said. "And I feel comfortable that the city has developed collaboration with local, state and federal agencies. To the extent that we can prepare, we are prepared."

The funds have better equipped San Bernardino police, Billdt said, funding everything from new firearms for SWAT officers to goggles, gloves and hazmat suits to be used in the event of biological attack.

What federal funding has not helped with is the war on terror's depleting effect on the San Bernardino Police Department, an agency already so short-staffed that Mayor Pat Morris is supporting a ballot measure that would hike local sales taxes to help fund the hiring of 40 more police officers.

Billdt said several of his officers have been off the streets for extended periods while fulfilling duty as military reservists.

"It has drawn away some of our resources, and in that regard we're doing more with less," Billdt said.

Bueermann said his department recently purchased gas masks designed to filter biological agents, but they will be used mostly to filter tear gas used to smoke out homegrown fugitives.

Bueermann's concerns about the diminished funding stream for more street cops and outreach programs is understood when looking at the federal Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, budget over the last 10 years.

The COPS program, a key initiative of President Clinton designed to help local police and sheriffs' departments put 100,000 more police and sheriff's deputies on the streets, saw its budget for hiring cops drop from $226.2 million in 2000 to zero in 2006. In 1998, the budget for hiring more officers under the universal hiring program, was $1.07 billion, said Gilbert Moore, spokesman for the office of Community Oriented Policing Services in Washington.

Though the system for applying for federal funds has shifted away from community policing and toward counterterrorism efforts, some in law enforcement have learned to work the system in their favor. A lack of oversight as to how federal grant money is spent doesn't make it all that difficult, said Allan Jiao, chairman of the Department of Law and Justice at Rowan University in New Jersey.

"On paper, you can say the community policing program has been hurt because of 9/11. On the other hand, however, it is a matter of how you use the money," Jiao said, referring to the way federal grant applications are filled out by law enforcement officials.

"They have to say the money is going to be used for terrorism prevention and training, but is it really?" Jiao said.

One thing positive that did emerge from Jiao's study is how police officers, mostly lower ranking patrol officers, have come to view their jobs since 9/11.

"The reason their mind-set changed is because they saw that if anything like that ever happens again they will be right in the middle of it because police officers will be the first responders."

That new perception by police officers, Jiao said, is manifested in their duties.

"They used to do random patrol. They used to wait for calls to come in as they do every day. Just normal police business," Jiao said. "Now they look at things they would have never looked at before the high rises, the landmark areas, chemical plants, power plants. If there's a building being erected, they will actually check on the construction crew. They may have never done that prior to 9/11, but now they do."

Solberg, the CHP officer, agrees with Jiao's assessment.

"You have to know every square inch of a place in case something goes wrong. You think about anything that can happen. If you can think about it, it could happen."