Policing terror threats and false positives: Employing a signal detection model to examine changes in national and local policing strategy between 2001 and 2007

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Security Journal


This paper presents a theory of agency decision-making regarding homeland security policy over the last decade in the United States and inquires about appropriate modes of study to test its potential effectiveness. The key hypothesis is that the staple strategy of agency decision-making during the last decade has been hypervigilance; defined here as: a state in which agency policy is rationally structured to maximize the pursuit of false positives and gravitate aggressively toward security threats. The related research question is How can we study hypervigilance and false positives in all matters regarding policing terror threats? We argue that increased security measures tend to err toward pursuing false positives. However, we do not claim to understand the overall economic costs and benefits of recent homeland security policy decisions, in tangible financial or other realms. We contend that such an understanding is presently unattainable, considering the lack of raw data availability of how many terrorist attacks have been halted by increased security measures within the last decade. We do argue however, that the signal detection model is an appropriate starting methodology for study of such policing strategies. © 2011 Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

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