The Alexandria Police Department has experienced many changes since Sept. 11, mainly in the area of intelligence gathering and coordination. The mission is still the same – just enhanced.
“On Sept. 11, our primary mission was the same as it was the day before and a year later,” said Alexandria’s chief of police, Charles E. Samarra. “To protect the people of Alexandria. We remain committed to that mission.
“Of course, many things have changed. We now have an office of Intelligence and Internal Security, and the duties of the Special Operations Division have expanded to include specialized training and equipment acquisition.”
The federal government has made millions of dollars available to local police departments for security. The U.S. Department of Justice has approved just over $3 million for equipment for the Alexandria Police Department. This will include specially equipped vehicles, support equipment, technology and special uniforms. This equipment has been approved and is now on order.
The office of Intelligence and Internal Security was a direct result of Sept. 11. “Our mission is threefold,” said Capt. Al Tierney, commander of the unit. “First, we are responsible for intelligence gathering. Second, we are responsible for the internal security of the city, including the police department and every other department within the City of Alexandria. Finally, we are responsible for emergency preparedness – preparing for any disaster, whether it be natural or man-made.”
Tierney’s unit consists of three officers: himself, Lt. Scott Ogden and Detective Joe Morrash. “We work very well together,” Tierney said. “Scott Ogden keeps us all together, and Joe Morrash does the real detective work.”
WHAT TIERNEY meant was that he coordinates with senior officials in federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies, Ogden works with mid-level officials, and Morrash does casework out of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Morrash is assigned to the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).
“The JTTF is not a new concept,” Tierney said. “As a matter of fact, the one in the Washington Field Office is one of the oldest, if not the oldest in the country. The FBI decided that the best way to fight terrorism was to work cooperatively with other federal agencies, military intelligence units, state law-enforcement agencies and, of course, local agencies such as ours.
"Detective Morrash sits in the FBI’s Washington Field Office and works cases that come out of local investigations. For example, he might be assigned to handle a case that was the result of an investigation that began in Alexandria.”
One example of such a case is the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) case. “It has led to 190 arrest warrants,” Tierney said. “And it began as a domestic violence call in Alexandria.”
Police in Alexandria received a routine call for a domestic violence complaint. A patrol officer, who responded to the scene, while interrogating one of the family members, learned that an individual who lived in the home was involved in illegally taking the TOEFL for those who wished to obtain a student visa. All foreign students who plan to enter American colleges or universities must pass this exam
“The alertness of a patrol officer on a routine call in Alexandria led to many arrests, nationally,” Tierney said. “That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”
IN ADDITION TO intelligence gathering, the unit is responsible for the internal security of the city. “We must assess the internal security of all of the departments in the city,” Tierney said. “That includes physical security as well as computer security. I don’t know a lot about computer security, but we have someone who does, and I know the right questions to ask.”
And what about radiological, chemical and biological terrorism? “We have someone who is an expert in those areas as well,” Tierney said. “While every member of the department has received training in these areas and everyone has a special uniform that will protect him or her from radiological, chemical or biological weapons to a great extent, we have an expert who can advise us on these matters.” That expert is Joe Watson.
The final area that falls under Tierney’s auspices is emergency preparedness. “It is our responsibility to make sure that all city departments have a plan for disasters – natural or man-made — and that each department has brought that plan to the table and had it evaluated. Sometimes it is as simple as looking at plans for evacuating buildings, and sometimes it is about looking at the plan, or what happens if you don’t have a facility to evacuate.”
Tierney’s unit is also responsible for coordinating with federal agencies about securing the public safety center, the jail and the federal courthouse. “We work closely with our special operations division and the U.S. Marshal Service in designing the best security possible for our high-profile prisoners and the trials of terrorists,” Tierney said.
Samarra agreed. “Security around the public safety complex, where suspect Zacarias Moussaoui is in jail, has increased tremendously, yet it is still a public building,” he said. “People will still walk in the front door of the police department to have fingerprints taken or to make a report.”
ALEXANDRIA POLICE officers must also now provide security for the federal courthouse. “A year ago our officers assisted Arlington police with perimeter security at the Pentagon,” Samarra said. “Today they provide the outer perimeter and media-area security at the federal courthouse, where one of the terrorist conspirators will face U.S. justice. I am extremely proud of their dedication and determination, and I am proud of our citizens’ trust in the Alexandria Police Department.”
Tierney, when he needs reminding that his sometimes tedious and thankless job is worth it, looks at the picture on the wall of his cubbyhole. “I have a satellite photo of Ground Zero shortly after the Twin Towers fell,” he said. “Sometimes when I’m not sure that what I’m doing is worth it or has a point, I look at that photo. I used to be in the division of criminal investigations. I worked on the Shifflett homicide and on the Frazier case. There, you see results. Someone gets arrested, tried and convicted. Here, your success is when nothing happens, and sometimes you don’t know if it was as a result of anything you did. That picture keeps me focused on what is important.”