At 8 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, Lt. Mike Hanel was just your typical senior in high school. Like most seniors, Hanel had first period off which was typically a great opportunity to sleep in — but as fate would have it, that was not the case on that Tuesday in September. Hanel’s father woke him up and together they watched the endless feed from New York, courtesy of the media. At first, the initial reaction was one that many had that morning, that it was a terrible accident. Soon all doubt would be erased after a second plane hit the World Trade Center. It was clear what was happening.

“We’re almost an entire generation removed from 9-11. Obviously many of the soldiers that are fighting the War on Terror right now, weren’t even around or don't even have a recollection of what that day was like. Even some of our officers here don't have any firsthand knowledge of what it felt to wake up that morning and watch the news that day and what it (us) feel like,” Hanel said, adding, “... But then the more important thing and the thing I always focus in on is 9-12 — the day after and the surge of patriotism that was around the country… Even though the times seem so divided right now, that 9-12 spirit is something that, at least for me, puts everything back in perspective on anniversaries like this. When we celebrate the 20th coming up here, we’re remembering 9-11 but we're also remembering what it was like on 9-12 when our nation was truly probably the most united it’s ever been and harken back to that.”

Lt. Mike Hanel of the Dickinson Police Department sits at his desk Monday, June 7, 2021, at the police station. Hanel is hopeful for more community awareness as the Dickinson Police Department leads the state as one of the first law enforcement agencies in North Dakota to use CrimeMapping.com — an online database detailing criminal activity. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
Lt. Mike Hanel of the Dickinson Police Department sits at his desk Monday, June 7, 2021, at the police station. Hanel is hopeful for more community awareness as the Dickinson Police Department leads the state as one of the first law enforcement agencies in North Dakota to use CrimeMapping.com — an online database detailing criminal activity. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

Like many citizens who felt enraged at what had occurred, Hanel had an epiphany to pick up a role and serve the American public.

“9-11 was a catalyst for many of us that wanted to get into law enforcement. For me, personally, in high school I was looking at actually becoming an airline pilot… but 9-11 happened. That kind of reinvigorated my early childhood ambition of being a police officer. So it was either law enforcement or flying Blackhawks for the Guard. Unfortunately, my vision wasn't the best so I ended up (pursuing) the path of law enforcement,” Hanel said.

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In 2004, Hanel joined the Dickinson Police Department and he noted that it was the best route he could have envisioned for himself. But with the attacks on the United States in 2001, security and law enforcement have tightened buckles on all fronts.

“Probably one of the biggest changes that law enforcement, specifically (what) Dickinson experienced, was the availability of Homeland Security dollars to be able to better prepare local responses for terrorist threats,” Hanel said.

Members from the Southwest Tactical Team train in full gear. Since the establishment of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Dickinson Police Department was able to form the Southwest Tactical Team in 2003 as a way to fight terrorism on a local level and respond to high-risk calls. (Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press)
Members from the Southwest Tactical Team train in full gear. Since the establishment of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Dickinson Police Department was able to form the Southwest Tactical Team in 2003 as a way to fight terrorism on a local level and respond to high-risk calls. (Josiah C. Cuellar / The Dickinson Press)

That funding was utilized to acquire eight to 10 tactical vests that got the ball rolling for southwest North Dakota law enforcement agencies to formalize a regional response, Hanel said. Through the establishment of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Dickinson Police Department was able to form the Southwest Tactical Team (STT) in 2003.

“It is a multi-jurisdictional team comprised of officers from the Dickinson Police Department and other surrounding agencies. The team’s mission is to provide a resource for regional agencies to successfully resolve critical incidents, with the intent of preserving life and protecting citizenry,” according to a statement from DPD’s website.

STT members train together on a monthly basis, and primarily respond to high-risk search and arrest warrants and confronting armed suspects. In order to become regionally-certified, the North Dakota Peace Officer Association Special Operations Committee has incorporated a list of standards each team member must meet, which include the ability to deploy chemical munitions, marksmanship, ability to work in a crisis negotiation as well as apply skillset to other specialized equipment and tactics.

A screen view of the website CrimeMapping shows how users can select a preferred zip code to view criminal activity reported in their neighborhood. Since 9-11, law enforcement agencies across the United States and in the world have developed advanced security systems and programs to prevent crimes from happening, such as on the Internet. The Dickinson Police Department is one of the first law enforcement agencies in North Dakota to use the CrimeMapping online database that's available to the public. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
A screen view of the website CrimeMapping shows how users can select a preferred zip code to view criminal activity reported in their neighborhood. Since 9-11, law enforcement agencies across the United States and in the world have developed advanced security systems and programs to prevent crimes from happening, such as on the Internet. The Dickinson Police Department is one of the first law enforcement agencies in North Dakota to use the CrimeMapping online database that's available to the public. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

“I think for rural communities, we have the sense of being somewhat insulated from the chaos of a concrete jungle in a big urban city that would be the traditional target of a terrorist attack,” Hanel said. “But we could be equally as vulnerable. I think the aftermath of 9-11… and beyond that basically showed us that any of our communities are vulnerable and that it’s our responsibility as law enforcement and emergency management to identify those threats and come up with methods to respond to those to prevent them.”

The National Security Division — which was created in 2006 by the Justice Department — has developed and promoted a national counterterrorism enforcement program that has yielded prosecutions against hundreds of defendants. Intelligence has also improved, even with DPD and its recent adoption of its CrimeMapping online database in early June.

“The vast advancement of technology, training, tactics and different types of tools to be able to help keep our communities safe,” Hanel remarked. “... I look back at the law enforcement in 2001 and 2004 when I first started, (it) is vastly different than now. The amount of technology and the training that our officers are given to respond to potential terrorist attacks whether it be domestic or foreign. It’s quite amazing what level of training and tactics are available out there for law enforcement communities.”

As the 20th anniversary of 9-11 approaches, Hanel reminds Dickinson residents to pause and remember the lives that were lost and the sacrifices made in the name of American freedom.

“Patriotism exists, it's not in the age of social media. It's just a lot harder to identify,” he said. “I think almost all Americans are truly patriotic in their heart and their spirit. It just seems that the divisive stuff is what's being highlighted around the country through social media and whatnot. If you look back at other tragedies since 9-11 with the Boston Marathon Bombing and other major events, unfortunately it is events like that that seem to shake our conscience a little bit and remind us that we're all vulnerable. But yet, we have to pull together after any of those events and look out for one another.

“... Freedom is not truly free. It is paid with the blood sacrifice of many before us and we can't take it for granted.”