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Homeland Security and Public Safety: Fault Lines or Urban Insurrection

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Horace Blake
September 16, 2014

America came to a standstill during the 9/11 terrorism attack. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security—for the purpose of agency alignment under one umbrella—was spearheaded by the president in hopes agencies could share information in a seamless manner. This new department is not without its critics. At times, it has become a mega bureaucracy, which tests the will of government on how far it reaches into our individual lives. Many Americans will only experience this department during their travels as Transportation Security Administration (TSA) attendant checks at airports execute rigorous searches that borderline on intimidation and, in some aspects, invasion of privacy rights.

Homeland Security Structure and Purpose

Blake sept

Homeland security is within the cabinet level of the executive branch, which encompasses five directories under the guidance of five undersecretaries. The management directorate responsibilities include accounts and budget, appropriations and procurement, human resources and performance evaluation, property and facilities, information technology and equipment. Homeland security continues to be an all-encompassing bureaucracy that includes:

  • Border and Transportation Security Directorate, which coordinates the U.S. Federal Protective Services, Customs Service, Office for Domestic Preparedness, Immigration and Naturalization Service Enforcement, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Transportation Security Administration. The main purpose of this directorate is to provide security for air land and sea along our borders as well as transportation systems.
  • Science and Technology Directorate, whose purpose is to facilitate the research and development in mitigating weapons of mass destruction and where the deployment of homeland security technologies is facilitated.
  • Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate is designed to include Federal Emergency Management Agency where any issues related to technological disasters and terrorism along with any natural disasters.
  • Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate is focused on domestic and international terrorist threats as well as the protection of technological resources and cyberspace, where they identify and assess the nature and scope of terrorist threats through five color coded alert system.
  • Science and Technology Directorate is established to facilitate  research and development in protecting  and preventing against issues related to weapons of mass destruction threats, the loss of lives and the slowdown of  economic activities.

Homeland Security versus Public Safety

Although Homeland security takes on a wide scope covering much of our lives, public safety is more focused on government employees such as first responders, fire safety, police and peace officers. This group is more known to the public, especially on the local level where citizens have direct contact. Increasingly, the public safety professionals are embracing a wide variety of strategies in how work is accomplished. The watchful eyes of many citizens have direct effects on public safety officers keeping them at loggerheads with citizen action groups, where mutual respect becomes evasive.

Public Safety Fault-lines or Urban Insurrection

Recently, there are several high profile stories on police officers and how they perform work. During the Katrina Hurricane, local headlines in The Times Picayune reported on police officers involved in siege on the Danziger Bridge, where a fierce gunfight left one dead and several wounded. At first it appeared to be officers responding to an emergency situation. However, before long the civil rights division of the Justice Department became involved, as there appeared to be willful cover-ups and abuse of authority. This case took several turns. The officers were charged and convicted. Then the decision was reversed. Then it went back to a conviction on new discoveries of civil rights violations for their role in this siege. According to the U.S Attorney Jim Latten’s office, it was described as “unprecedented events and acts” that “has taken the American court system on a legal odyssey unlike any other.”

Fast-forward from Hurricane Katrina to August 2014 as various media outlets are focused on the shooting of an African-American teenager by an Anglo officer in Ferguson, Missouri. This occurrence by the police is not ‘new’ news. However, something is going on in urban America that calls attention to labels such as:

  • The new civil rights movement.
  • Urban insurrection.
  • Militarized police departments.
  • Public safety under siege.

One area of questionable certainty is the recruiting and training of police officers, where the show of force continuum, culture of fear, super-hero, Rambo style cop and equipment is familiar in large urban centers such as New York, Los Angeles and all too frequent in Dallas. So what is the main challenge driving this? Notably the militarization of the American police departments has proven to go against smart policing. This is in addition to minority group’s historical disdain and distrust for police officers due to the many abuses of authority, unfair meting out of justice and racial profiling. Surprising and encouragingly enough these minorities are also getting support from Anglos to come to their aid as they march on city hall or protest this type of heavy handed police treatment.


Homeland security with the many areas of responsibilities is not without challenges. The recent stampede of Central Americans at the border has revealed deep fissures in our border security and ability to uphold our immigration laws. In the highly regarded article, “Broken Windows: The Police and Neighborhood Safety,” criminologist James K. Wilson and George Kelling called for a return to a 19th century style of community-oriented policing in which police maintained a presence in the community walked the beats, got to know citizens, and inspire feelings of trust toward public safety. This is asking police administrators to train and get their officers out of depersonalizing patrol cars. Instead of deploying police on the basis of crime rates or in the area where citizens makes the most calls for help, officers are placed where confidence is promoted along with mutual trust and respect.

Author: Horace A. Blake is a three-term city commissioner with 20 years combined community action experience at municipal and state levels. Blake currently serves on the Storm Water Management Team, working with the city and the community in water management, education and sustainable related issues.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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