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Blind Terror

Local police are spending millions to fight terrorism in Metro Richmond. They just won't tell us how or why.

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"I think we should all be concerned," says Col. Carl R. Baker, chief of the Chesterfield County Police Department.

But despite the concerns, none of the region's police departments is giving details of attacks, threats or hazards of terrorism in the area. And officials are keeping quiet about how they're keeping residents safe using the more than $10 million they've received in federal taxpayer dollars to combat domestic and foreign terrorists.

At a recent Chesterfield Board of Supervisors meeting, Baker said many believe that domestic and foreign terrorism doesn't take place locally, not in our neighborhoods or in our back yards. But, he warned, it does.

"We have had a number of cases involving terrorism in this county," Baker said at the Feb. 22 meeting. "That's why I have two people assigned full time to terrorism. We've had some success. But the time has come; we need to add more people to fight terrorism."

The Richmond Police Department has as many as seven sworn officers assigned to homeland security and intelligence operations.

"We've identified sites we call critical sites within Richmond," says Lt. Gary Ladin, an officer in the department's homeland security, intelligence and tactical support branch. Ladin says his office uses the U.S. Department of Justice's definition of terrorism — "the unlawful use of force or violence committed by a group or individual against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives" — to separate the everyday crime from acts of terror.

"A kid calling in a bomb threat to get out of a test isn't going to meet the standards of terrorism," he says. "At this point in time, any threat we get is considered a serious threat."

Training of police and other public-safety officers is essential, he says. "We do a lot of what-ifs," Ladin says.

Paying to train police and other public safety officers is just part of what the Homeland Security grants are being used for.

There are two categories of Homeland Security grants that the Richmond-metro area has received: those for which the county or city can apply separately and those for which jurisdictions apply together as a region.

In 2003, Richmond and the counties of Chesterfield, Hanover, Henrico and Goochland qualified for an Urban Area Security Initiative grant for about $6.5 million in federal funds. The only other region in the state to receive federal funds through the program was the Northern Virginia area just outside of Washington, D.C.

Curt Nellis, the grant manager for the Richmond metro area, says the money includes $3.3 million for communications projects — new radios so the localities can talk to each other on the same wavelength — as well as $1.5 million for public affairs, which includes renting AM or FM radio channels so police can talk to the community during emergencies; $550,000 for an emergency-response command center; $399,000 for portable radio cache in case of a large-scale attack; close to $400,000 to train officers; $200,000 for public safety projects and regional response planning; and $48,000 in grant administration costs to manage the $6.5 million.

"We are looking at things that the whole community can use," says Maj. Mary Ellen Fahed of Henrico County Police. Henrico officials wouldn't disclose how it spent their Homeland Security funds, except to point out that the department purchased at least one bomb-resistant suit worth $1,500 and roadside emergency message boards for about $40,000.

Along with Henrico, police officials in Richmond and Chesterfield have not responded to repeated requests from Style for a breakdown of how those departments have spent the grant money, leaving about $4 million unaccounted for.

The departments, however, are required to submit detailed budget plans to the federal government before the grants are approved.

"When the grants first came out they were primarily equipment grants," says Michael Cline of the Homeland Security Office of Grants and Training in Richmond. Eligibility was based on the level of terrorist threat in the jurisdiction applying for the money.

Both the approved budgets that the counties submit and the proof of eligibility are classified, Cline says. Also classified are documentation and police reports about terrorism that are pending investigation.

Because terrorism is an ongoing threat, the Henrico, Chesterfield and Richmond police departments say they aren't required to release details about targets or threats in their jurisdictions. Because they are considered a part of the homeland security strategy, Cheryl Adkins of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management says the information is classified. Adkins says her department also can't comment on the grant prerequisites, which includes proving the area is, potentially, a substantial terrorism target.

Why so secretive? It's the nature of the invisible beast, says William Newmann, a criminal justice professor who specializes in homeland security at Virginia Commonwealth University. "When you are investigating terrorism, you are investigating the prevention of it, not the event itself," he says.

Richmond has proven to the Homeland Security Office that it's a potential target and should receive money. But what, if anything, could be targeted in Richmond?

"When people think of Richmond as a potential target they think of the Federal Reserve being here," Newmann says. The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond is one of 12 Federal Reserve Banks in the United States that regulate the banking industry and set monetary policy. It's also where money is printed and coins minted.

The Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond has prepared for a threat since 1995's Oklahoma bombing, says Laura Fortunato, a spokeswoman for the Federal Reserve.

"You can see the obvious: There are fences out there, airport security-type detectors in the entrance way … bollards along the Seventh Street entrance," she says. "Every effort possible has been made to protect the people that work here." Shortly after terrorists struck the Twin Towers, the Richmond bank was mentioned as a potential target.

It's not the only potential target in Richmond.

"I think people look at biological agencies being a significant threat, especially when there is a large student population," Newmann says. The Richmond-metro area is home to Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Richmond and Virginia Union University, as well as several community colleges.

"The worst-case scenario that everyone talks about is small pox," he says. "It has an incubation period of about two weeks." What could happen, Newmann explains, is a terrorist could wait for a big event, such as a college graduation, and release the small pox bacteria into a crowd of students. These students would spread it to the university population. The infected students would go home from summer break and spread the epidemic further.

Could it happen? Richmond has spent upward of $10 million to see that it doesn't. S

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