Fear of Terrorism

As terrorism becomes more prevalent within a society, concerns about the psychological effects are brought to the forefront. The psychological effects of terrorism, in general, should have an impact on the ability of law enforcement and the public to interface appropriately. A recent study by Bleich, Gelkopf, and Solomon (2003) of the psychological effects of terrorism on the public in Israel showed surprisingly low levels of post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms despite high incidences of direct exposure to terror events. This study demonstrated that, although up to a third of the respondents acknowledged a “limited sense of safety and substantial distress [they] reported adapting to the situation without substantial mental health symptoms and impairment, and most sought various ways of coping with terrorism and its ongoing threats [, possibly linked to] processes of adaptation and accommodation” (p. 619). The study found that the most effective and widely used coping mechanism was checking on the well-being of friends and family. As people tend to cope well with trauma, attitudes towards protective measures seem to acquiesce for the common good, and this can be assistive to law enforcement.

One of the protective measures people tend to adopt that would help law enforcement is a sense of hypervigilance (Bleich, Gelkopf, & Solomon, 2003). Hypervigilance allows the people to be more attentive to things out of the ordinary (e.g. unattended packages, suspicious loitering, anxious mannerisms of others, et al.). This promotes a line of communication with law enforcement not only regarding terrorism but for other criminal activity, also.

Another protective measure, which goes towards acquiescence, is the ability of the people, in general, to accept an increased presence of law enforcement in their daily lives. When faced with a proximal event, the bulk of the citizenship contend that it is, indeed, a function of government to protect the masses from further harm, and these citizens tend to accept limits on personal liberty for perceived increases in security (Klein, 2007). This is a double-edged sword, however. People tend to want to return to a normal state of affairs (Bleich, Gelkopf, & Solomon, 2003). Though an increased police presence is initially welcomed and embraced, the people will eventually resent the loss of liberty and require law enforcement presence to recede. How this occurs will either enhance or detract from the ongoing relationship with law enforcement. An example of this is easy to see when considering both local law enforcement and the federal effort of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Local law enforcement seems to have decreased their presence, at least in my area, and are respectfully viewed as helpful, whereas the TSA, an agency that continues to irrationally impede on liberty, is viewed negatively by the traveling public.

Law enforcement is a service-based industry where the public is the customer. Police need to understand both the rights and the fears of the people in order to maintain the appropriate level of service, which waxes and wanes.


Bleich, A., Gelkopf, M, & Solomon, Z. (2003). Exposure to terrorism, stress-related mental health symptoms, and coping behaviors among a nationally representative sample in Israel. Journal of the American Medical Association, 290(5), 612-620.

Klein, L. (2007). Civil liberties and national security in the post 9-11 era: State power and the impact of the USA Patriot Act. Conference Papers – American Sociological Association, 1-8.