Since 9/11: Always watching

By Larry Hannan, September 4, 2011

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 changed everything.

But for law enforcement, aviation officials and even people who run sporting events, the events of that terrible day had a long-term silver lining.

The attacks modernized crime fighting by forcing different agencies that communicated only sporadically to develop daily communication. They also led to a technological revolution with computers used by police and security at airports going from the dark ages to the cutting edge.

"We use this data to make sure terrorists can't attack us," said Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford. "But it has also improved our daily crimefighting."

The Times-Union spoke to officials about what has happened.

How has Jacksonville International Airport changed?
Chris Styles remembers driving into Jacksonville International Airport on Sept. 11.

"I vividly remember driving in because it was first responders day," said Styles. "I was listening to talk about that on the radio."

Style, now the senior manager of airport operations at JIA, was closing down a runway when he got the call that a large number of planes, about 30, would be unexpectedly landing. He worked to get the runway back open, not knowing exactly what was happening.

"We had to figure out how to park all these planes and get the people off quickly," said Styles. "That wasn't easy."

Security at JIA is very different now. Previously, the individual airlines checked baggage. Now the Transportation Security Administration checks every bag and is also responsible for passengers going through metal detectors.

The airport also was in the process of designing a new baggage area, which made it easier to rework the plans. That allowed JIA to be the first airport in the country to install a new explosive detection system for baggage that now screens every piece of luggage that goes on a plane.

Other airports had to put similar systems in the lobby until they could figure out where they went, JIA spokesman Michael Stewart said.

How has law enforcement changed?

The knock on law enforcement after Sept. 11 was that different agencies did a poor job of speaking to each other.

That was true at the time, but it's gotten better in the last 10 years, Rutherford said.

That has meant closer coordination between different law enforcement agencies.

"We have built partnerships through our regional task forces," said Dominick Pape, regional agent-in-charge of the Florida Department of Transportation.

The different agencies have accepted the reality that there is no single law enforcement or safety organization that can provide every service, and so they must rely on each other for help, Pape said.

Rutherford said the entire way law enforcement works has changed, with 60 different agencies in Northeast Florida sharing information.

Ten years ago if police in Jacksonville arrested a man for domestic violence, it was highly unlikely police would know that same man was wanted for a church arson in Mississippi. Now that information is readily available.

"Law enforcement is much more about analyzing data than it used to be," Rutherford said.

There also are a lot more eyes and ears on the ground.

Rutherford remembers a time when an off-duty officer noticed a man photographing the base of the Main Street bridge. The officer snapped a photo of the man, and within minutes found out he was on a terrorist watch list in North Carolina.

"There's no way that happens before Sept. 11," Rutherford said. "The officer wouldn't think to check him out, and we wouldn't have had the technology to know who he was."

What has it meant for people in their day-to-day lives?

Rutherford points to last year's baby Melvin Duclos case, which had nothing to do with terrorism, as an example of how things have changed.

In March, 2010 Jasmine Marie White posed as a Florida Department of Children and Families worker and snatched the baby from his parents' Westside home late Tuesday afternoon.

White flashed a badge and handed the baby's parents, Haitian immigrants, documents that convinced them they were in trouble and needed to turn the boy over, police said.

Police and federal agents found the baby safe about 13 hours later in a home of sleeping people.

Melvin never would have been found that quickly before Sept. 11, Rutherford said.

Forensic technicians lifted a single print off one of the documents and had it scanned into the Automated Fingerprint Identification System. The print matched one taken of White after a 2008 auto theft arrest.

Armed with White's name, crime analysts tracked her to five different addresses. Police hit all five simultaneously, finding Melvin at the home of White's mother.

"Before Sept. 11 we would have gone to the address on her drivers license and only then would we have gotten more addresses," Rutherford said.

"That would have given people time to alert her that we were coming, and she might have gotten rid of the baby."

The improved technology, and ability to work quickly with other agencies, may have saved Melvin's life, Rutherford said., (904) 359-4470



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