Making Baltimore a hard target

Mayor, city officials set daily priority of home-front security

War On Terrorism : The Nation

October 11, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

On the Day After, the morning of Sept. 12, Mayor Martin O'Malley was frustrated. He wanted guidance on what Baltimore should do to protect itself against terrorism, and he couldn't get answers or even a basic checklist from anyone, including federal officials.

So he called his friend, former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, who was co-chairman of a commission on America's security needs and whose presidential campaign poster hangs in O'Malley's office.

"He said: `You really shouldn't wait for the federal government. You've got to do it yourself,'" recalled O'Malley, who worked on Hart's 1984 and 1988 campaigns. "He said: `And the last thing on [the federal government's] mind is to come up with a how-to book for the local governments. ... Just get smart people together in a room and figure it out yourself. That's what I would do if I were you.'

"So that's what we did."

Ever since then, O'Malley has been running a wartime local security campaign that appears to be one of the most intensive, comprehensive and certainly most public of its kind in the country.

He fervently believes his city is part of the Afghanistan war's other front -- the major U.S. population centers with vulnerable targets.

His commanders on what he calls the "home front" are the police commissioner, fire chief, health commissioner, public works director, transportation chief, finance director, a recently hired terrorism consultant and other officials throughout the government.

His campaign to make Baltimore a "hard target" for terrorist attacks might have been the object of derision a month ago. But now O'Malley is America's new anti-terrorism mayor, testifying before Congress, showing up on network television and giving tips to mayors across the country through Internet videoconferences, including one planned for this afternoon.

The objective, he said, is to shore up the home front.

In the assault on Afghanistan, "Our soldiers have a clearly defined chain of command. They have the best equipment, and the best technology," said O'Malley, complete with a military sense of urgency.

But at home, he said, "We have a shortage of equipment, we have a shortage of technology. We have nothing resembling intelligence rushing to the front."

The image of the mayor of Baltimore commanding his top officials like a cadre of security forces might be reassuring to citizens worried about the possibility of another terrorist attack -- should one come -- hitting close to home.

But it also might be unsettling to Baltimoreans used to seeing their leaders, especially O'Malley and Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, focus their energies and dollars on crime, an issue that already hits home.

It certainly worries O'Malley. The city spent $1.5 million on police overtime in the four days after Sept. 11, the mayor said, and he's talking about adding a "security charge" to residents' water bills to pay for the increased security and testing at the city's water and wastewater facilities.

"I really would like to use the 3,000 police officers I have to attack the chemical warfare that we've been suffering under for many years," O'Malley said, referring to the heroin and cocaine trade on Baltimore's streets.

"I would really like to be spending every single dime I have on attacking those things. As a practical matter that's not possible or responsible to do right now," he said. "But ... what I could have done with that $1.5 million if I had it for additional enforcement and drug unit and other things makes me want to cry."

The Police Department continues to devote some resources to security that it once devoted to fighting crime -- though the administration notes that violent crime is still down significantly in 2001.

Since Sept. 11, when the city was on its highest state of alert, Baltimore has not returned to the lowest, normal level of readiness, said Norris, who was with the New York Police Department for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

In the past month, Norris and the O'Malley administration -- with the help of retired New York Police Department official Louis Anemone, hired as a terrorism consultant -- have identified numerous possible threats to the city and started preparing for each one.

Officials are compiling a list of roughly 200 potential targets for attack in the city -- such as government buildings and highway tunnels -- including about 60 considered "critical," Anemone said. The department has officers assigned to monitor many sensitive sites not already guarded by other agencies, including 30 officers a day for watershed areas alone.

"Our belief is that these guys do a lot of planning and a lot of testing of the places they intend to hit before they actually carry out their mission," he said. "It's our plan, if they actually have something in mind, to catch them doing their recon at one of these sites before they've had the opportunity to strike.

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