Law enforcement leaders recall concern, uncertainty on tragic day
John Camper was the day’s watch commander at the Lakewood Police Department on Sept. 11, 2001.
In Santa Fe, N.M., then-Lt. Stan Hilkey was at the New Mexico State Police Academy in a training class that was interrupted that day when the facility was locked down.
“I’ll never forget thinking about the lives lost right in front of my eyes when the towers were falling,” said Hilkey, who was elected sheriff of Mesa County within a year.
In Colorado, Camper waited for word from his wife, a United Airlines attendant who was scheduled to fly east on 9/11, and presided over extraordinary measures by his department. Lakewood law enforcement activated an emergency operations center.
“In retrospect, that perhaps sounds a little silly to take such actions in a smaller metropolitan agency, but none of us, of course, had any idea yet what we were dealing with or the scope of the attacks that might have been planned,” said Camper, now chief of police in Grand Junction.
After several hours of not knowing, Camper said he learned his wife was safe on the ground at Denver International Airport.
Sept. 11, 2001, changed the lexicon of law enforcement as “fusion centers” and “inter-operability” — improved systems, communications and cooperation with federal agencies — became the priority. The tragedy also was a driving force behind some changes just recently realized in Mesa County, and it opened a flood of federal grant opportunities, from equipment to training.
The Colorado Information Analysis Center, headquartered on the Front Range and formed with a goal of linking law enforcement agencies statewide for the purposes of sharing information, was a product of 9/11.
“The cooperation isn’t perfect, but it’s light years of where it was 10 years ago,” Camper said.
This past spring, Grand Valley law enforcement agencies linked together in a computer database, allowing agencies to share reports and other information.
“Many agencies got (federal) funds for legitimate protection of assets or to build communication systems and information-sharing systems, but I also saw agencies that bought a lot of gear and things that probably weren’t necessary,” Hilkey said. “(Mesa County) got some biohazard gear to use in events like that, but not much.”
Federal grant dollars earlier allocated for local law enforcement concerns, in some cases, disappeared entirely and were redirected at terrorism, he said.
“We had to fight, rather hard, at the national legislative level to keep federal dollars available to address drug issues,” Hilkey said.