The shopping mall. Federal buildings. Certainly the airport. Security seems tighter everywhere.
But nearly a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there are fewer security personnel on guard in 18 states, according to an analysis by Scripps Howard News Service.
While the number of federal security jobs has skyrocketed -- with 377 percent growth since 9/11 -- security employment overall has declined in many parts of the nation.
In California, there were 8,400 fewer security employees in May 2010 compared with May 2000. In New York, security jobs declined by 15,000, including 4,220 fewer police personnel.
According to former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, since 9/11 the federal government's philosophy generally has been, "We will invest in equipment or capabilities, but we're not going to pay for personnel," and that "might have a little bit of a dampening effect on hiring on the state and local level."
Combined security employment -- federal plus state, local and private -- increased just 5 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Massive federal hiring was almost offset by a decrease in private security guards and local and state police.
Most of the federal job growth was fueled by the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Safety Administration after 9/11. The federal security payroll -- including TSA, federal police and security guards -- soared from 20,704 in September 2001 to more than 98,000 in last March, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Chertoff, who as head of the Chertoff Group advises countries and companies on security, attributed the initial growth in federal jobs to "dealing with threats that were directed largely at federal systems -- meaning aviation, for example, or ports, and those are areas where the federal government has primary responsibility.
"It also reflects our total counter-terror effort, which involved a lot of overseas activity -- which means intelligence collection, analysis and even overseas operational activity. So you would expect to see the initial response to be at the federal end of the spectrum."
The shift to more federal security workers resulted in "a very expensive security system," said urban policy professor Robert W. Taylor of The University of Texas at Dallas. The former Portland, Ore., police detective said, "Being employed by Uncle Sam is very, very expensive" when it comes to benefits and pensions.
This year alone, the Department of Homeland Security will spend $56 billion That's more than the entire budgets of Tennessee, Kansas and South Carolina combined.
"We've got to be smarter about the size of government," said Taylor.
Did the federal government overreact and hire too many people? Or is it spending our money wisely?
"I wouldn't say the government has overreacted," Chertoff said, "because the result is that we have not had a successful attack against the U.S., particularly one generated by an international operation. Now you can always argue, 'Would we have had an attack if we'd had 10,000 (fewer) people?' And that's difficult to prove one way or the other. But I'd have to say what we've seen in terms of outcome suggests that the strategy has been correct."
Current DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano agrees: "What we have now and didn't have before 9/11 is a homeland security architecture that is many-layered. We know we'll never eliminate all risk. I'm not providing any guarantees for the country. But we can minimize risk and we can maximize our opportunity to stop something, and that's what we've done."
During the past decade, public-security job growth dwarfed private growth. Managers of private facilities like shopping malls must live within their means, so they hire what they can afford, said Jeff Flint, executive director of the National Association of Security Companies, while he contends the federal government can spend what it wants.
Taylor said it's a myth that the feds do a better job of keeping us secure. "There's very little difference between a good private contractor and a federal employee," he said. Particularly in areas of cybersecurity and digital crime, Taylor said, private companies are nimble and can hire cutting-edge analysts that may be more knowledgeable than FBI careerists.
Chertoff predicts an increasing role for private firms in national security.
"The challenges are going to change. ... It's generally acknowledged we're going to have more homegrown terrorism," requiring "more community-oriented response capabilities," Chertoff said. "... My sense is that the jobs in the next 10 years will be more at the local level and in the private sector."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member on the Homeland Security Committee, said local police work, however, should not be outsourced.
"I think privatizing police functions is a real mistake. ... There's a difference between whether or not your employees are engaged in public service, which is one instinct, or whether they're engaged in something for profit, which is a legitimate instinct, but it's a very different instinct from public service."
And Napolitano said it's "not just about employees."
"Every American has a role to play," she said. "Time after time, we've seen when a citizen or a police officer on the street sees something odd that then we're able to actually stop a plot from being effectuated."
As the economy struggles and local and state coffers shrink, Napolitano said DHS "will focus on the cities where the threats are greatest, the risks are greatest, and that means for this year, we cut in half the number of cities that receive those types of grants.
"We will make difficult and hard choices," she said. "But they're going to be based on our most recent intelligence, our risk analysis, and (we'll) put the money at the federal level where we think it will do the most good at the local level."