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Review: Christopher Dickey's 'Securing the City' examines cost of keeping us safe

Christopher Dickey has reported around the world for Newsweek. Writing about real and imagined terrorists and spies for decades, he has excellent sources, even within normally closed law enforcement operations. In Securing the City, he explains how the New York City Police Department has set the standard for preventing terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.

The book is primarily a valentine to city Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Deputy Commissioner David Cohen, who cooperated with the author. Still, the book is not mindlessly upbeat, as Dickey shows that numerous problems exist within the police force, primarily outside the counterterrorism realm.

The overarching theme of Dickey's narrative is the proper limits placed on a law enforcement agency when the dangers of another 9/11 are real, but overaggressive behavior might impinge upon civil liberties. "How far would they go to protect the lives of millions of people all around them whose homes and jobs, whose schools and whose houses of worship were part of the number one terrorist target in the world? How far would they not go to protect them? Maybe Kelly and his team could be trusted to walk that line in a reasonable way most of the time. Maybe."

Dickey also shares what he has learned about contravention of the conventional wisdom. As politicians and frightened constituents demonize illegal immigrants, for example, law enforcement officials know that most undocumented entrants help keep urban areas safe — they work hard and try to avoid trouble. Their language skills and ties to trouble spots in their nations of origins can become assets for municipal police.

It is difficult to imagine a city the size of St. Petersburg or Tampa organizing a counterterrorism unit anything like the scope of New York's. But cutting-edge cops make for fascinating reading, wherever the reader resides.

Steve Weinberg is a freelance investigative reporter. He reports frequently about the criminal justice system.

Securing the City

By Christopher Dickey

Simon & Schuster, 336 pages, $26

Review: Christopher Dickey's 'Securing the City' examines cost of keeping us safe 03/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, March 21, 2009 4:30am]
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