The news from London was shocking, but not as shocking as it might have been before Sept. 11, 2001.
Our first reaction was natural:
Are we next?
The region's political and law enforcement leadership mobilized immediately. Scheduled leave time for police was canceled. Extra officers were put on subways. Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said the attacks were a reminder that we are "at war" and announced increased patrols of roads, bridges and tunnels. D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey deployed more police carrying submachine guns to Metro stations. D.C. police worked with federal and local law enforcement agencies throughout the region.
The response was homeland security at its best. Federal, state and local law enforcement worked together seamlessly. It was nothing less than what we have come to expect in the post-Sept. 11 era.
The events of this week, though, remind us of two other things. The first is how media coverage of a shocking event 3,700 miles away can and should galvanize our response here at home. But the massive mobilization also highlighted something disturbing: What our political leadership is doing to address a "homeland security" issue closer to home -- the unprecedented crime wave that is sweeping the border between Prince George's County and the District.
So far this year, there have been 86 homicides, 808 robberies and 337 carjackings in Prince George's County. As of July 4, 131 people had been sexually assaulted in the county this year. For the people in the neighborhoods within a stone's throw of Eastern and Southern avenues, this crime wave is as big a homeland security crisis as the threat from al Qaeda, but don't look to see their troubles covered on CNN.
That's because no single instance of mass terror, such as a bombing, awaits the TV cameras. Instead, the terror takes on a different, no less frightening, form: the daily drumbeat of random carjackings, killings and robberies that has become a fact of life for many residents of Southeast and inside the Beltway in Prince George's.
Last week highlighted the huge gap between the law enforcement resources that were mobilized to protect our national monuments downtown and the resources dedicated to protecting human life and safety east of the Anacostia River.
No embassies are located east of the Anacostia. Few VIPs live there, and the area has no major "protection assets." But lots of real people live there -- families with children, whose lives and safety should be no less important than marble edifices.
To see the gap between the response to the al Qaeda threat and the threat from local crime and gangs, look no farther than the vaunted "cooperation agreement" between the District and Prince George's.
Last October Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced that their police officers would be cross-deputized under federal authority. Every night, criminals play hide-and-seek with police in the District and Maryland, using the border as a shield. The cross-deputizing was to stop that by allowing designated officers from both police departments to cross jurisdictional boundaries to arrest perpetrators of serious crimes.
Great idea, but after nine months, the program is still not operating. The original sponsor, the U.S. Marshals Service, backed off. Recently, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agreed to get involved in conferring federal jurisdiction on the local officers. The program is supposed to start in August with 20 officers. When it's al Qaeda, the law enforcement machinery can mobilize in hours. When it's local crime, it can take 10 months.
This is typical of the bureaucratic bungling that strangles law enforcement on both sides the D.C.-Prince George's line. Cooperation between the two jurisdictions on even the most fundamental aspects of arrest and prosecution often breaks down, including on such basic issues as transporting prisoners, summoning witnesses and sharing information.
The cross-border crime problem has become so acute that a real federal law enforcement presence -- backed with federal cross-border authority and operating under a single command -- might be in order. This, of course, will never happen until the political heat on cross-border crime becomes so intense that Congress acts and local police agencies are forced to give up turf. But don't hold your breath.
Meanwhile, as the region wonders whether it will be the next al Qaeda target, people living east of the river have a more immediate fear: Whether they will be the next victim of violent crime in their own neighborhood. They don't want less homeland security, just more security close to home.
Maybe if the CNN trucks started showing up on Southern Avenue, they could hope for a change.
The writer, a lawyer in Greenbelt, served for 16 years as a Democratic member of the Maryland legislature. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.