Guarding the Garden: A Dissection of New Jersey’s State Homeland Security

– Executive Summary

This research thesis seeks to analyze the evolution of New Jersey’s approach to homeland security, a topic yet unexplored in depth.[1] This research seeks to delve into New Jersey’s distinctive approach to homeland security, emphasizing the importance of identifying valuable strategies and potential areas of refinement which could inform practices in other states. It’s essential to note, while New Jersey has some notable practices, a comprehensive comparison with other state homeland security agencies has not been conducted within this thesis. The thesis aims to answer the pivotal question: “What explains the evolution of New Jersey’s approach to homeland security?” This exploration could benefit New Jersey’s homeland security apparatus by highlighting effective methodologies and potential areas for refinement. Furthermore, sharing these insights can enrich the broader discourse on effective strategies for promoting possible best practices and fostering collaboration among state-level homeland security agencies.

Two critical themes central to this research are the concept of focusing events and evaluating success in homeland security measures. These themes are explored via the foundational work of scholars such as John W. Kingdon and Thomas A. Birkland for the theory of focusing events, and the extensive scholarly discourse around measures of success in government programs and initiatives.[2] This framework helps investigate the trajectory of New Jersey’s homeland security policies and practices.

The research design comprises four stages. First, a comprehensive literature review was conducted on focusing events and the measures of success for government programs, specifically within the context of homeland security. The literature review helped create a strong theoretical and practical foundation for the study, situating it within the existing body of knowledge on focusing events and measures of success.

Secondly, an in-depth overview of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJOHSP) was provided to allow the reader and researcher context into the organization structure, operations, and divisions within NJOHSP. Third, employing a case study method, the research examined four evolving programs within NJOHSP, offering nuanced insights into how these programs have influenced New Jersey’s homeland security approach. The thesis concluded with findings, implications, and recommendations derived from this comprehensive analysis. The goal was to offer a detailed and rounded understanding of New Jersey’s distinctive homeland security approach.

The second chapter of this thesis offers an extensive overview of NJOHSP, its structure, history, and functions. It introduces NJOHSP’s four major divisions—Intelligence and Operations, Preparedness, NJCCIC, and Support Services, each having distinct bureaus. The Intelligence and Operations Division plays a key role in threat analysis, intelligence management, and operations. This division has been vital in preventing terrorist activity and sharing information with numerous partners. The Preparedness Division focuses on training, risk management, and infrastructure security to ensure readiness for potential threats. It identifies preparedness gaps and processes homeland security grants, making New Jersey’s security measures more robust.

The New Jersey Cybersecurity & Communications Integration Cell (NJCCIC) established in 2015, a part of NJOHSP, coordinates cybersecurity information sharing and deals with the state’s cybersecurity plans. Meanwhile, the Support Services Division, responsible for fiscal management, grants, IT, and human resources, provides crucial operational support.

The chapter also highlights the New Jersey Suspicious Activity Reporting (NJSARS) program, highlighting the state’s mature SAR system. Its outreach efforts to law enforcement and faith-based leaders have positioned New Jersey as a notable example in these areas. Lastly, the thesis underscores the budgetary aspects of NJOHSP. In sum, NJOHSP’s mission to lead and coordinate counterterrorism, cybersecurity, and preparedness initiatives throughout the state has been effectively implemented via strategic initiatives, as evidenced by its proactive outreach efforts, collaboration with local communities and law enforcement agencies, and the adaptability of its security measures and mission space in response to evolving threats.

The third chapter explores how New Jersey has adapted and changed its approach to state homeland security. Specifically, it provides an overview of the changes within the New Jersey Suspicious Activity Reporting (NJSARS) program from 2003 to the present, the advent of the New Jersey Interfaith Advisory Council (IAC) in 2012, homeland security changes in response to school threats, and the inclusion of the counterintelligence threat in 2019. This chapter outlines the dynamic evolution of homeland security in New Jersey since 2002, driven primarily by the establishment of the Office of Counter-Terrorism, and subsequently NJOHSP, and responsive adjustments to emerging threats. It highlights the successful implementation of the NJSARS program, a key initiative encouraging collaborative reporting of suspicious activities in the state. This program, along with the use of County Terrorism Coordinators (CTCs), has enhanced the existing law enforcement culture, fostering greater coordination and collaboration.

NJOHSP has consistently partnered with the governor’s office and lawmakers, effecting legislative improvements, and increasing state-level grant funding availability. Specifically, efforts have been concentrated on strengthening soft targets, such as houses of worship, while also providing adaptable responses to crises like school shootings, enhancing public safety, and fostering trust. In response to new threats arising from disinformation by nation-state actors, especially during COVID-19, NJOHSP enhanced its counterintelligence capabilities. This transformation involved launching a Disinformation Portal and coordinating with the FBI, thereby strengthening the defense against foreign threats. The ongoing evolution of New Jersey’s homeland security approach is a testament to the state’s agility in adapting to an ever-shifting threat landscape. The factors influencing these changes were explored further in the following chapter.

Chapter Four of this thesis covers the findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The evolution of New Jersey’s homeland security initiatives, as illuminated by this study, is a result of five factors: geographical location, diverse population, national events, resource availability, and the influence of key actors.

First, due to New Jersey’s proximity to New York City and its own history of terrorism, there was a compelling need to develop a comprehensive and resilient homeland security apparatus. Furthermore, New Jersey’s rich potential for counterintelligence operations due to its numerous higher education institutions, research labs, and pharmaceutical companies highlights the geographical influence on security concerns.

Second, given the diversity of New Jersey’s population, especially its notable religious plurality, there’s an emphasis on inclusive security measures to safeguard all communities from bias crimes and hate incidents.

Third, national events, from the 9/11 attacks to the surge in mass shootings, influenced homeland security’s evolution, prompting the formation of NJOHSP and subsequent adaptive strategies to counter evolving threats. Fourthly, the availability of resources has played a crucial role in strengthening the security infrastructure, with programs like the New Jersey Nonprofit Security Grant Program providing funds for protective measures in vulnerable institutions.

Fourth, key actors, such as the Governor, the New Jersey State Legislature, the Attorney General, NJOHSP, and other homeland security professionals have played significant roles in adapting security measures and policies to emerging threats. For instance, Governor Murphy and the state legislature enacted laws supporting homeland security, while the Attorney General issued directives to modify law enforcement operations. In sum, the evolution of New Jersey’s approach to homeland security underlines the importance of adapting strategies in response to specific contexts, emphasizing the necessity of proactive measures in ensuring community safety.

This study dissects New Jersey’s homeland security strategies to offer valuable insights and recommendations for states, researchers, and people in the homeland security realm. By examining New Jersey’s approach, the use of geographic and demographic attributes, fostering interagency collaboration, and improving counterintelligence capabilities, lessons can be drawn for other states to enhance their security measures. The role of adequate resource allocation and the need to address the security needs of a diverse population are emphasized. Future research should focus on a longitudinal analysis of these strategies to evaluate their effectiveness over time, considering the evolving nature of threats to homeland security. The findings underscore the importance of continuous learning, collaboration, and adaptability in developing robust homeland security strategies.


[1] Although the author of this thesis is employed by the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJOHSP), this thesis is not endorsed by NJOHSP, nor does it reflect the official view or opinion of NJOHSP.

[2] John W. Kingdon, Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd ed. (New York: Longman, 2003); Thomas A. Birkland, After Disaster: Agenda Setting, Public Policy, and Focusing Events, American Governance and Public Policy (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1997).

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