On September 10, 2001, I was attending a law enforcement conference in Atlantic City, NJ. While I have attended hundreds of similar meetings, this conference stands out for several reasons. First, and most obvious, it was the eve of the day where most of our lives were indelibly altered. Second, there was a presenter on September 10th who spoke eloquently and fortuitously, given the next day’s pending tragedies, about the role of first responders. He referred to first responders as “tower runners” -- referencing the selfless acts of public safety during the 1966 University of Texas tower mass-casualty shooting. His speech focused on the courage embodied by those who ran towards the tower at their own peril – while fighting the natural inclination to flee danger.
The “tower runner” courage was never so chillingly appropriate -- the same courage demonstrated in Austin on August 1, 1966 transcended time and place and was clearly displayed thirty-five years, one month and ten days later in New York, Arlington and in the skies over Shanksville.
Much has changed since September 11, 2001. Law enforcement staffing is reduced; agency budgets have shrunk considerably; Federal resources are stretched thin; police are doing more with less and adapting to the new normal; threats abound – from grassroots anarchists to international cyber-terrorists; and challenges posed by guns, gangs and drugs remain a constant. The above is reality for today’s state and local law enforcement – all while protecting and serving when, as citizens, we are in our most dire of need.
Despite the above challenges, it is heartening to see and hear the enduring spirit of law enforcement. In my regular conversations with law enforcement leaders, analysts and officers alike, I see an enthusiasm for how state and local law enforcement can and must continue to innovative, maximize their staff and data, and best prepare for the next tower. I am grateful to the speaker for imparting the term to me more than a decade ago; however, I am more grateful to all of the “tower runners” who live the concept each and every day.