Looking Back, Thinking Ahead

We’ve all said it before: It seems impossible that a decade has passed since the 9/11 attacks. For law enforcement, it’s not enough to remember that day passively. We must consider how our world and our profession have changed. How will we react when terrorists try again? What should we be doing differently today? And what about domestic terrorism and its threat to the country?

Seeking answers, I decided to speak with friends and colleagues in law enforcement who have grappled daily with the ramifications of terrorism. Insightful, profound, determined—the interviews that follow are a testament to the resolve of our profession and perhaps offer a glimpse of the path forward.

Chief Chris Trucillo

In September, 2001, Christopher Trucillo was the commanding officer of the New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) internal affairs office. His office was located on the 84th floor of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. His best friend and brother-in-law worked in the same tower for a financial firm.

“We used to kid each other all the time, and I’d tell him that when he made it to the big time, he’d be up here, meaning higher in the tower,” said Trucillo. “In August of 2001, he became the South American broker for Cantor Fitzgerald and moved up to the 105th floor. It was a big promotion for him. Our wives were sisters and we both had young children, so we planned a big trip to Saint Lucia to celebrate. We would be going the week after September 11th.”

A few days before that fateful day in September, Trucillo’s boss called him in and told him that he should attend a racial profiling conference in New Jersey that began on the 11th. Trucillo didn’t want to go. He was busy, planning a big vacation, and he had cases that needed to be tied up before he left.

But his boss persisted, noting that this was a big issue and the heavy hitters would be at the conference. Trucillo’s protests were ignored and the chief finally told him: “Chris, you’re working too hard. Go with Pat and Bobby to Atlantic City.” Trucillo decided he’d make the most of it.

The morning of Sept. 11 found Chris Trucillo in Atlantic City. “We’re staying at the Sheraton hotel. The day was absolutely gorgeous. We go downstairs and you wouldn’t believe it. The 50 Miss America contestants are taking their publicity photo,” said Trucillo. “What could get better than this? No work, 50 beautiful women and an absolutely gorgeous day. We walked over to get a cup of coffee and the beepers went off.”

The message: “You’ve got to get back. A plane hit the World Trade Center,” he recalled.

Trucillo and the others rushed back, arriving right after WTC Tower 2 had fallen. “It was chaos. I started to internalize,” he said. “I was wondering where my brother-in-law was and I was thinking about where all the PAPD people were. I started wondering who had come from what command and where they were.”

This thought, the location of the responders, became a mission for Trucillo, one that would determine the course of his life for the next several months. “At that moment, no one was looking at which people had come in and where they were so that’s where I got involved. I directed my people to figure out who had come in from the different commands and figure out who was unaccounted for. Then we start reaching out to their families,” he explained. “Sometimes there just wasn’t any information so that’s what we told them—that we had no information. I just knew they needed to hear something.”

The efforts began by Trucillo led to the establishment of a family liaison unit within the PAPD.

 “For 18 months, we worked 12 hour days, six days a week,” recalled Trucillo. “People were like zombies. What sustained everyone was that this was a labor of love for the brother officers that we lost. There was a 100% commitment to recover them and their colleagues from NYPD. And to try and bring closure to the almost 2,700 people who perished there,” he said.

“It was a very, very difficult period. At the same time, it was the finest hour because 37 members of the department set a bar very, very high and every member of the department just wanted to do everything they could for the families of those 37 officers.”

Trucillo said he’s often asked when the PAPD will be over 9/11, and he always gives this answer: “When the last officer who was working 9/11 is retired, then we might be over it.”

Trucillo later became chief of the PAPD and led the department for five years until the Port Authority eliminated the position in a restructuring move that was controversial within the department.

Trucillo is now the New Jersey Transit Chief of Police and has some strong opinions about what the law enforcement role should be in this country, especially in a transit agency like he currently runs.

“Given the intelligence that came out of Osama bin Laden (OBL)—the renewed focus to target transit and hit rail transportation—my advice would be to look at ourselves as counter-
terrorism officers. We were crime-fighters and community policing officers. But now I tell my officers that we have to be counter-terrorism officers. Our department doesn’t have a special [counter-terrorism] unit. My statement to my staff is that no one person has a single responsibility to do this. Every officer needs to understand that counter-terrorism is their mission.”

“This is different than World War Two when we had a clearly visible enemy,” Trucillo  said. “With terrorism, I’m afraid, we can’t see so clearly when this war will be over. Certainly, it’s not over with the death of OBL. I’m not as optimistic as Secretary Panetta because of homegrown radicals. I think this fight is going to transition from a military fight back to a homeland fight and that’s going to put law enforcement on the tip of the spear.”

Chief Bob Paudert

On May 20, 2010, West Memphis (Ark.) Police Chief Bob Paudert experienced something no chief should ever have to go through. He lost two officers from his small department—one of whom was his 39-year-old son, Sgt. Brandon Paudert. The other was Officer Bill Evans.

The two officers were gunned down by two men who identified themselves as “Sovereign Citizens” and presented some official looking papers that stated they were exempt from government authority. In the midst of the confusing encounter, the officers were gunned down by the two, both members of the same family and both wielding AK-47s.

If this story sounds familiar, it should. Chief Bob Paudert has been on a crusade to let officers around the country know what happened in his town. His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed—the killing of his officers and what he’s discovered about the Sovereign Citizens was the subject of a segment on 60 Minutes this past May.

I contacted Chief Paudert to get his perspective on terrorism 10 years after 9/11. What does law enforcement need to consider now? Not surprisingly, he had a lot to say. 

“I think first that the FBI, CIA and all those involved in protecting our country have done an outstanding job of securing our borders from international terrorists,” Paudert said. “The fact that we have not had another successful attack did not just happen. It’s been a lot of hard work. What I think we should be focusing on now is the domestic terrorists that are active within our borders. Of course, this includes the Sovereign Citizens that I have been addressing, but, in general, I feel like there’s been a real failure to properly monitor and be aware of these domestic terror groups.”

Paudert has relentlessly sounded the alarm and talked to everyone in the justice department who will listen. It looks like his efforts are paying off because he was recently asked to provide training sessions around the country that specifically address the threat of homegrown terrorist groups.

“I think things are beginning to change,” Paudert said, referring to new interest directed toward domestic terrorism. “Within the last year, since the deaths of Brandon and Bill, I have seen a remarkable amount of attention that these groups are getting.”

Asked to give priorities for addressing the problem, Paudert outlined three specific areas.

First, we need to educate officers at all levels, local, state and federal about the risk of domestic terrorism. “Every area of law enforcement needs to be aware of what is happening,” he  said.

Next, “we need to be able to alert officers on the dangers of these individuals and groups. Here’s an example of what I mean: They had information on the Kanes [the killers of Brandon and Bill] since 2005. [The feds] listed them as domestic terrorists. In 2009, the Kanes were part of a video seminar where one of them clearly stated, ‘If I have to kill one (police officer), I just know I won’t stop.’ But there was no caution put out anywhere as to the danger if an officer ran into these individuals,” Paudert  said. “What I told the attorney general and FBI director is that I want to see the FBI sharing this information. They need to put out an alert that caution should be used. This could be done right now, and it would have saved the lives of Brandon and Bill.”

Finally, more study needs to be done on domestic terror groups. “We need to gather intelligence,” Paudert  said. “As an example, the Southern Poverty Law Center is doing an outstanding job. I just can’t believe that our federal government doesn’t have the information that these private groups do. If they do have it, then they aren’t sharing it with us.”

Paudert is driven to accomplish his mission of getting the word out to law enforcement. “My primary purpose in life is to save officers. I think our system failed us and we’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “These guys did not just surface recently. This has been under the radar for too many years. After Brandon and Bill were killed, I felt guilty about not telling them about these groups. I felt like I let my department down and let my officers down because I didn’t know anything about these groups.” 

Paudert discovered that he was not alone in his lack of awareness of domestic terrorist groups. The more he contacted people, the more he discovered that those who should know were unaware. “I found out that we just didn’t get the information,” Paudert said. “There’s been a breakdown in the sharing of this information and we have got to change this.”

Paudert hopes that the loss of his son and Officer Evans will not be in vain. “Maybe the loss of these two officers will be a catalyst for change,” he said. “We have failed and it’s time for us to step up to the plate and accept responsibility for changing this.”

So far, Paudert has been pretty much a one-man show and has donated his time to getting the word out about the dangers of groups like the Sovereign Citizens. That’s about to change because the Bureau of Justice Assistance is going to start funding his training sessions and bring some formal structure to the effort.

After 45 years in law enforcement, Paudert said he is excited about the change and the opportunity. “I think it’s going to save lives,” Paudert said. “I’m done being chief and this is my passion. It’s a calling and I know it will make a difference. Every single time I’ve presented this training, there’s been a standing ovation. Every time, there are officers who come up to me with tears in their eyes and thank me. That‘s what makes it possible for me to see my son killed when I show that video (of the shootings) on the screen.”

Law Officer strongly supports the efforts of Bob Paudert. This training is absolutely in line with the Below 100 initiative. If ever there was an example of something that fits the criteria of WIN (What’s Important Now?) it’s understanding what these domestic terrorist groups purport to believe and the extreme danger they pose. Stay tuned for more information on this growing threat and the availability of training on the subject.

Paudert’s 3 Keys

1. Educate American law enforcement about the true nature of domestic terrorism.

2. When a threat is known, get that information out to officers immediately.

3. Study domestic terrorism threats and develop relevant intelligence.

Chief Joe Morris

When he got the call,  Joe Morris was the New York/New Jersey Port Authority Commanding Officer at LaGuardia Airport. He rolled to the towers along with approximately 20 officers. Morris had been in PAPD when the 1993 bombing occurred and many lessons from that day were rushing through his head as he responded.

“When I look back, that experience helped me a lot,” he said, referring to the 1993 bombing. “I was with the chief and he kept emphasizing that we had to bring order to chaos.”

As the group from La Guardia approached the towers, Morris was able to take in the scene from a very broad perspective, and this helped him to understand both the gravity and the nature of the situation. From a distance, he actually saw the second plane fly into the south tower.

As the group arrived on scene, Morris made a decision that proved to be a life saver for many. His contingent had brought a command bus and the normal place to park in the event of an emergency was in an area known as “VIP Drive” near the base of the towers.

“I decided to park away from this area to protect the bus and the personnel from all the debris coming off the buildings,” he said.

Not surprisingly, the cops wanted to rush into the buildings and start the rescue but Morris needed time to assess the situation. “I told the lieutenants and sergeants to break up into groups but not to go anywhere until I came up with a plan,” he said. “I had them stage on West Street, north of Easy Street. Normally, they would have been in the lobby of the North Tower.”

As Morris headed toward the command post in the north tower, he sensed something approaching. It was the beginning of the first building collapse. “I ran north on West Street and made it to the command bus. I jumped in and the cloud hit from the fall of the first tower,” he said. “I tried to get myself together as others came to the bus knocking on the door to get in.

“They looked like Pillsbury doughboys—they were covered with powder. One of them was the chief of detectives; we had to take debris out of his mouth and nose and get him oxygen. It was really bad.”

After the large debris cloud passed, they came out of the bus and Morris tried to reassess what to do.

The primary question was where they should set up. The bus needed to be moved but the debris was up to the windshield and the engine wouldn’t run because the fine powder had blocked the air intake filter. “The two guys who were operating the bus, they got the debris off the front, took the filter off and rinsed it using a nearby hydrant. They put it back on and we got the bus going.”

The group moved about four blocks farther away and shortly after, the North Tower came down. “Once again, the white blizzard passed over us,” Morris said. “People said it was loud but I just remember hearing the sound of all the Scott air pack alarms.”

Morris, who was named site commander for the recovery efforts, recalled the massive outpouring of help. “All the people that responded, God bless them,” Morris said. “But there really wasn’t anyone to rescue. We knew that night because everything was just pulverized. Originally, the thought was that there would be 10,000 or more casualties. Fortunately, most of the people got out.”

“We eventually moved our operation to an education facility in Manhattan and brought in generators because there was no power,” Morris said.

“We provided them power and they let us keep the gym for our operations. That afternoon, I was told that 19 of the first responders to the Oklahoma City bombing had committed suicide so we brought in counselors and we worked with them for the long term. We made sure our first responders got counseling. When we closed down the site, we ran a two day debriefing for everyone. We brought in experts on suicide prevention. We invited spouses and helped them to understand the danger signs. We told them where to reach out and get help.”

It worked. Morris proudly said the PAPD hasn’t sustained suicide losses attributable to the recovery efforts.

Proper equipment was really important to the recovery operation, according to Morris. “We had risk management people come down and make sure we had the proper ventilators,” he said. “Not the hospital-type masks. As a result, I believe Port Authority personnel suffered less long-term injuries.”

Morris also pointed out that after using a rotation of personnel through the site, they eventually settled on a cadre of about 200 chosen people based on operational needs. “We needed strong minded personnel to make it work,” he said. “One of the guys, John Ryan, was known as the ‘Pile Nazi.’ If you didn’t wear the proper gear, you didn’t work at his site.”

Morris sums it up this way: “You have to worry about your people. You have to take care of them and you have to make sure they have the right equipment and use it.”

On Sept. 26, 2001, Morris was promoted to Chief of the Department/Acting Superintendent. He retired from the PAPD in 2004 and later worked in the private sector doing vulnerability studies. He also served as the federal security director at John F. Kennedy airport. This combination of experience has given him some strong feelings about the potential for further terrorist attacks and the perspective needed by today’s law enforcement leaders.

“Are they going to come back? Absolutely, without a doubt. How will they hit? I think they’ll always try to do it with aviation if it’s Al Qaeda,” he said. “That’s because they’re looking for the news and they want the biggest
financial impact.”

But Morris thinks there’s a different dynamic in play that should be considered. “Since we went to war with them, since we killed Bin Laden, the danger is that they will morph into individual units or cells. These groups will not be looking for only the large catastrophic loss, they may look to attack trains or a tunnel.”

Morris, who has twice been to Israel, said we can learn a lot from the Israelis and their attitude. “Security has to be a function of the police. We’re no longer involved in just crime suppression,” Morris said. “We have to constantly be aware of our vulnerabilities and address them.” 

Will Jimeno

When Will Jimeno went into work on Sept. 11, 2001, he had no idea how close he would come to never seeing Sept. 12. Jimeno was one of two NY/NJ Port Authority officers who were dug out of hundreds of tons of rubble after the collapse of the twin towers.  Not surprisingly, he has very strong sentiments about what happened. Jimeno has been a friend for a long time and he spoke candidly about his feelings as we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

“For me, this has always been about family,” Jimeno said. “Family encourages everything we do, it motivates us. And when I say ‘family’ I mean our country, our department and our immediate family. On September 11, when I ran into those buildings, it was for family. It was for my country.

“We were doing what we were sworn to do—protect and serve. We lost so many officers but I think their loved ones can take some comfort in knowing those officers sacrificed for family and for our country,” Jimeno said. “To me, this is really about our biggest family, the United States of America. It’s about how we can make this a safer and better place.”

“Remember to honor those you serve and to honor your country,” Jimeno said. “Yes, you’re working, but you’re doing it for your family, for your community, for your country. That’s really the bigger picture and if we keep that in the forefront, it makes work a much better place.”

Jimeno feels strongly about the importance of the youth who have grown up with terrorism as a part of their lives. “For them, it’s their Pearl Harbor. They can take and steer us in a better direction,” he said.

Jimeno spends a great deal of time speaking to groups about the concepts of service and love of country.

“A couple of weeks ago, my daughter got a text from a boy at her middle school where I had spoken,” Jimeno said. “He said how much he appreciated my talk and what it meant to him. Later, he came by the house and said they were still talking about it a week later.  That means a lot, especially coming from an eighth grader.

“I tell them [the youth], they’re my heroes. They’re going to make this country a better place. And I always tell them to remember those who make sacrifices for them—the military and the police.  The feedback I get from them is priceless and very encouraging. It keeps me going,” he said.

Port Authority Officer Will Jimeno was living his dream on Sept. 11, 2001, when he responded to the World Trade Center. He had been born in Columbia and later became a U.S. citizen while serving in the U.S. Navy. When he got out, he became an officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Wearing a badge and serving the country he loved was the best job he could possibly imagine. As a result of his injuries from 9/11, he had to retire from that job but the enthusiasm for law enforcement and for those who serve is evident to everyone around him.             

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