Never Forget: How law enforcement changed following 9/11

We sit down with the Houston County Sheriff
Updated: Sep. 9, 2021 at 6:50 PM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - Perception and practices in law enforcement changed following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza discusses how things changed locally.

After that September day, programs and equipment were introduced to better combat terrorism. Here, the focus turned to domestic threats. Sheriff Donald Valenza has spent over four decades working for the Houston County Sheriff’s Office. On September 11, 2021, he was the Lieutenant Commander of Criminal Investigations.

Valenza said, “I remember hearing about a plane hitting a tower, and we thought well, might be an accident. Then, I think later on about an hour or so later, another one hit, and at the time my commander, who was the chief deputy at the time he was a retired FBI agent, and I came in and said, ‘did you see what’s going on?’ and he said, ‘yeah, this cannot be accidental’, and then it went from there.”

Safety protocols across the country changed immediately. Even more changes would soon follow, including the implementation of a federal defense logistics program.

“We’re the keeper for Homeland Security, Houston County Sheriff’s Office, for ten counties. We got probably $7 million worth of equipment stored.”

Selecting key departments to aid in the defense of the nation.

“We live on instinct. We live on history. 95 percent of history is really not any good. It’s events that took place, that we try to prepare where it never happens again,” according to Valenza.

Using the past to better understand our weaknesses and prepare for the future

He said, “They can hit us by interstate, they can hit us by rail. When I went through several schools since 9/11 on domestic, it’s not how many people you can kill. It’s how bad you can disrupt the way of life.”

Valenza says 9/11 changed everything. Now, 20 years later, “Every time you have an anniversary, you think about ‘are they going to come out with another act as their part of their celebration of what they’ve done’.”

Valenza worries about what could come next, in the wake of the decision to leave Afghanistan.

He said, “It alarms you a lot when you hear what all they left over in Afghanistan the other day. This stuff is going to resurface. It’s going to resurface around the world. It’s going to be sold. It’s going to go to other terrorist organizations in my opinion.”

Sheriff Valenza says there will always be a threat but they try to use what they’ve learned from 9/11 to keep history from repeating itself.

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