Law enforcement in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada has seen a substantial transformation over the past half century, primarily due to its inextricable ties to legislation. Some practitioners and professionals allege that 9/11 was the marquee event that signified not only a new type of terrorism, but a new type of policing, broadened by legislative change and integrated into the counter-terror model. Were the events of 9/11 responsible for the transformation of law enforcement and a watershed of legislation in the subject nations? As seen throughout history, generational memory and media influence can instil a psychological contagion that long outlives the original news piece and pushes others of relevancy to the background. Having a considerable effect, this combination can impose bias and referential limitations in developing effective responses to terrorism.

Originally published as a dissertation, my research explores this notion and whether this transformation had been occurring, somewhat inconspicuously, for several decades. If lent proper context and scrutiny, it can be established that 9/11 was merely incidental in the history of this transformation. The scope of the selected data spanned the 1960s to present day and was collected on each subject nation, analyzed and presented in a comparative report. The study’s methodology employed qualitative and quantitative data and the examination of key factors that set the foundational context and measurement criteria. These included relevant aspects in the history of law enforcement; the organizational structure of law enforcement; the incidence of militarization; the powers of law enforcement and specific legislative responses to terrorist incidents, societal conflict and societal change.

When analysed within this framework and time period, the results cleared up some presumptions, as well as revealing areas for further improvement. In short, it showed that law enforcement in the United States, United Kingdom and Canada had seen substantial efforts to establish a standardised organizational model to address crime prevention and order maintenance, and now terrorism, with varying degrees of success. Although there were systemic barriers within the culture of these organizations that slowed the institutionalization of sustained change and continued progress, areas of programmatic, administrative, technological and strategic innovation in law enforcement in Canada, UK and the United States have been greatly influenced by a number of pieces of legislation over several decades.

Legislating counterterrorism policies – 1960s-2015
Over the past fifty years, counterterrorism policies have been scribed and enacted as direct responses to various domestic and international threats – long before the events of 9/11. However, current day media headlines and dramatization of the threat de jour by politicians has resulted in a continuum of effect and escalated fears of anytime-anywhere terrorism. As a result, these legislative responses have broadened police powers in part due to the inclusion of law enforcement in the counterterror model and a new focus on terrorism activities at the community and domestic levels. In coming years, it is predicted this will continue with law enforcement’s involvement becoming increasingly important, considering that by the year 2030 approximately seventy percent of the world’s population  will be living in densely populated urban areas, the preferred target of terrorists.

With the transformation in law enforcement beginning long before to 9/11, there were many factors that influenced legislation and enhanced police power, such as degree of harm, number of causalities and symbolism associated with terrorist incidents, public and foreign policy – and possibly political strategy, correlated to the speed of enactment and the actual breadth of additional police powers. This last point suggests hasty responses likely lacking in the required analysis and adequate time for review. Further to that, in all subject nations there was a suggested correlation between militarization, technological advancements and legislative latitudes that were instituted in this context, but to a lesser degree in the United Kingdom.

Specifically , law enforcement in the United States had operated primarily within their existing police powers up until the early 1990s when powers were significantly broadened responding to a rash of major and minor terrorism-related legislation, marked by the Oklahoma Bombing. This trend continued to present day. However, in the United Kingdom, the threat climate was entirely different; law enforcement had operated under temporarily broadened powers in the 1970s in response to IRA bombing campaigns, followed by major and minor terrorism-related legislation that permanently affected police powers in the 1990s and forward. As with the United States, the United Kingdom saw a correlation between the increase in terror-focused legislation and adoption of technological advancements and the decrease in terrorist incidents prior to 9/11, except where exacted by the IRA.

Law enforcement in Canada had been operating under various pieces of legislation with terrorism-related crime falling under the Criminal Code of Canada and temporary measures, such as the War Measures Act, up until 9/11. While terrorist incidents were, comparatively, minimal and sporadic, there were several major terrorist incidents from the 1970s to the 1990s that had no influence on legislation and did not introduce new or permanent changes on existing legislation. The surprising result from Canada’s data was that there was a distinct increase in terrorist incidents alongside an increase in terrorism-related legislation. This begs the questions: Has Canada’s counter-terror legislation been properly crafted and implemented? Was it driven by threat – or by public or foreign policy? And how effective is our current counter-terror legislation?

Law enforcement, policing and terrorism
As a result of the above data, two areas were identified for focus and further study. First and foremost, strategically-driven legislation must deter terrorism as an ideology at the foreign policy level through collaborative, validating approaches as opposed to military and adversarial responses and acknowledging terrorism as a multi-factored, multi-causal phenomenon with causal aspects that are distinctly different and separate from actual triggers. While developing effective responses to terrorism at the law enforcement to legislative levels can be at the mercy of greater global initiatives, such as civilization, democratization and desegregation of neighbouring nations, moving from homogenized assumptions to robust methods of root cause analysis are critical first steps.

While establishing a balance between societal freedom and securitization arose as an area of concern, developing a comprehensive policy-driven definition of law enforcement and its principles emerged as a clear dependancy in ensuring governance and accountability of leadership at the jurisdictional levels, thereby improving programmatic responses. Although widely accepted, does Moore’s four areas of law enforcement innovation  – strategic, administrative, programmatic and technological – require revisting and reassessment? What about horizontal efforts in communication, intelligence and resource utilization?

Today’s societies have clearly demonstrated a need for an organizational area in law enforcement that specifically addresses communication, both internally and externally to media and the public but has yet to be formalised. This may be more relevant if it is believed that the public service of law enforcement depends on the support of the public, as stated in one of Peel’s Principles, “the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect” . This in itself presents a reasonable foundation of needs and benefit assessment for an enhanced model of true community policing or open communication policing. The need for policing to pursue an empirical understanding of the community level causes of crime open communication policing functions on the some of the same objectives as community policing as a programmatic response, but stresses collaboration, inclusiveness, vested interest and mutual benefits  reducing bias and alienation and improving the quality of intelligence.

Moving forward: Developing new count-terror models after 9/11
Not surprisingly, much needs to be done to ensure that law enforcement effectively protects societies, reflects the democratic values of the nations they serve and are instrumental in their role in the counter-terror model. Still relevant today as it was over twenty years ago, Griffiths and Verdun-Jones stated in the Canadian Criminal Justice Journal that “there is considerable uncertainty on the part of both the police and the public about the role of the police in [Canadian] society.” While there is vagueness, it is clear that the intended function of law enforcement remains squarely in the hands of legislators, but its desired function must be in the hands of the public. Until then, for as long as police power remains imprecise in its definition, it will remain misaligned with the needs and direction of societies and flawed in measurement of its effectiveness.

A copy of this dissertation is available by contacting Valarie Findlay at

Valarie Findlay has a over decade of senior expertise in Canadian federal government and is President of HumanLed, Inc. ( She has developed cyber-security strategies and frameworks for policing, military and government departments and produced research papers and preliminary studies on cyber-terrorism, and a proposed structure for collaboration and knowledge sharing for cyber-security in the counter-terror model. She has just completed her dissertation, the subject of this blog, on the effects of terrorism on law enforcement in Western nations at the University of St. Andrew’s. and has begun her doctorate in sociology on the relevancy of the processes of civilization and democratization on terrorism in Western Nations and the Middle East.