Recent and controversy over the NYPD spying on Muslim groups has resulted in discussion over just what it takes to keep us safe—and where the line between protection and privacy begins and ends.
The fact is, law enforcement will forever be damned for taking preventative security measures—whether it’s traffic stops on local streets, surveillance at a broader level or making us walk through new x-ray machines at airports—and will be damned even further if they do not take these steps and real harm occurs.
Our day-to-day security has long depended on unseen actions and surveillance by law enforcement and civilian volunteer groups and we owe our ongoing well being to the behind-the-scenes work of both.
At for example, a small office building houses the New York state headquarters of the (CAP). CAP is a volunteer organization established as an official auxiliary to the US Air Force. The organization works with Military and Naval Affairs and the Office of Homeland Security and provides unseen and underappreciated reconnaissance, surveillance, emergency disaster relief and support in the local area that is important to our ongoing security.
CAP unofficially began in the late 1930s when more than 150,000 volunteers with a love for aviation argued for an organization to put their planes and flying skills to use in defense of the country. The Civil Air Patrol was officially born one week prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and as a result, thousands of volunteer members were available to perform critical wartime missions, logging more than 500,000 flying hours, sinking two enemy submarines and saving hundreds of crash victims.
CAP currently has 2,600 members, who logged 2,663 flying hours in the last year. Their motto is ‘Semper Vigilans’, which translates to ‘Always Watchful’.
Of eight New York squadrons, four fly out of Westchester County Airport.
“Our volunteers absolutely play a role in the security of this area and since 9/11 training has increased and we have stepped up missions and have become even more vigilant," said Captain Robert Stronach, public affairs officer for the New York wing. "It is a valuable and cost-effective method of surveillance compared to helicopter, twin or military aircraft surveillance.”
The New York wing is involved in everything from coastal patrols, damage assessment, radiological monitoring and photography to watershed monitoring and countless other tasks. In 2001 it was active in 9/11 support, providing some of the first aerial photographs of Ground Zero and specialized support for local emergency agencies.
The NY wing is equipped with advanced surveillance tools including Hyper-spectral-analysis and Satellite Digital Imaging System.
Major Sharon Brana is in charge of all squadrons at Westchester County Airport.
“In addition to search and rescue and emergency relief missions, we are trained in reconnaissance," he said. "We look for anything that is out of the ordinary, providing eyes and ears for law enforcement. We surveille the Metro North railway lines, Long Island Sound and the Hudson River. We photograph low-use airfields and dams and look for anything that shouldn’t be there.”
The local wing also works on drug surveillance in cooperation with law enforcement and trains on fighter jet intercept and other training missions with the Air Force.
CAP also runs cadet wings for males and females aged 12 to 18. The groups are similar to scouting organizations in their emphasis on leadership, teamwork and responsibility, but with a focus on aviation. The New York wing also holds a flight academy for cadets to learn to fly powered aircrafts and gliders.
Perhaps best known for its search-and-rescue efforts, CAP flies more than 85 percent of all federal inland search-and-rescue missions directed by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and their volunteer members are generally the first on the scene, transmitting satellite digital images of the damage within seconds and providing disaster relief and emergency services following natural and manmade disasters.
"Our members are either former military, or citizens who want to give back to their community and country, who like the patriotic values that come with service," Stronach said.
Thomas Jefferson is famously quoted as saying: “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance".
CAP and other unseen organizations watch and provide the security that allows us to enjoy the freedoms that we all take for granted every day.