Local Law Enforcement and Homeland Security

Last month I had the pleasure of briefing a large group of local and state law enforcement officials on the Islamic extremist threat in their area. My interaction with these professionals reminded me that they are THE frontline defenders in the War on Terror and play an indispensable role in our Homeland Security.

Joining me in speaking at this event was my friend and occasional American Thinker contributor, LTC Joseph C. Myers  What struck us both is how quickly they "got it" when presented with the right amount of actionable information about what Islamic extremist groups were already operating in their communities. It was also impressive to see some of these agencies and departments who were doing very high-quality counterterror investigations even with limited personnel and financial resources. And in this case, those departments were working together to share that knowledge.

Having been raised in a police family (both my father and brother are retired from the job), I'm familiar with the unique instincts developed by police officers day-by-day as they go about their beat. Recognizing something or someone out of place and a natural curiosity are necessary tools to being a good cop. However, one does not develop these skills and instincts sitting at a desk; they come from doing hundreds of traffic stops, shaking door knobs, talking to people and doing patrols in the community every day.

The value of this irreplaceable asset in the War on Terror was seen this past weekend when a Berkeley County, South Carolina police officer pulled over two men on a routine traffic stop and discovered incendiary devices in the car in a search after he observed one of the suspects attempting to hide a laptop underneath his seat. The two men, Youssef Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed, both University of South Florida students (former stomping grounds of Sami Al-Arian), were charged on Monday.

In addition to good standard police work in the field, many local departments, such as the ones in attendance at the conference LTC Myers and I spoke at, are committed to developing their own local intelligence capabilities. In the current issue of City Journal, Judith Miller takes a close look at the local law enforcement intel operations of the NYPD and LAPD, "On the Front Line in the War on Terrorism."

As Miller points out in her article, New York City in particular has developed an impressive operation with hundreds of full-time personnel meeting with informants, doing undercover work, and analysts looking at open source information for developing threats as part of a "preventative approach" on the local level. In Los Angeles, they have had to adapt the same preventative approach to their local political circumstances.

What this trend of local intel units indicates is that while FBI and Homeland Security efforts might be all well and good, local law enforcement authorities facing growing terror threats are not content to believe the Feds can handle the task all on their own. Citing an incident in Summer 2003 involving a reported "dirty bomb" threat (which later proved to be false), Miller reports that the NYPD discovered the peril of relying exclusively on federal agencies: "What we learned from that episode was that when and if we needed federal assets, we were still on our own, even after 9/11," one former official told Miller. This assessment from the city that suffered the brunt of the 9/11 attacks.

While this preventative approach might occasionally stumble on or uncover an active immediate terror plot, it really is intended to address the "down the road" threat that federal agencies just simply don't have to time to look at. One only needs to observe what is happening currently in the UK, France or Sweden regarding the rapid escalation of Islamic extremism to see the wisdom in that strategy.

One problem is that few departments have the ability to create the intelligence infrastructure anywhere near what NYC and LA have. But there are some strategic steps local law enforcement leaders can dramatically improve their department's capabilities to address growing threats:
  • Realize that the Federal government will not save you. The response to Hurricane Katrina should provide ready evidence of this, but also understand that federal agencies responsible for counterterrorism are simply swamped just dealing with immediate threats. They do not have sufficient manpower to catch every single threat. This makes working with federal agencies all the more imperative. Communicate regularly to your political leaders the message that counterterrorism is also a local and state government issue.
  • Invest in dedicated personnel as much as possible. Even if you are only designating a few individuals to be responsible for tracking local threats, having someone looking at these issues everyday is much preferable to creating a squad and spreading their duties out in multiple areas. And don't make counterterrorism the last stop before retirement. Utilize seasoned personnel, but remember that it is the "down the road" threat you're looking at. The effectiveness of your department's efforts in that regard will be significantly diminished if you're rotating counterterrorism personnel every 2-3 years due to retirements.
  • Develop public/private partnerships. Some of the best experts in some areas of the counterterrorism field are not in government. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center is one of the best resources for any law enforcement agency to get trained on the threat from neo-Nazi and other racist organizations. And at times private partners are able to go beyond what law enforcement can occasionally do in terms of intel gathering and open source data mining.
  • Be smart about your Homeland Security funds. You would think this would be common sense, but in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, Homeland Security funds were used a few years ago to purchase bulletproof vests for their K-9 units. I'm sure they thought this was a worthy cause, but in an area where we have had one of the largest known al-Qaeda cells in the US, was that really the best use of that money? Is it any wonder that Columbus was near the bottom of the list for the recent announcement of forthcoming Homeland Security funds?
  • Provide opportunities for field personnel to get even minimal training in potential local threats. The guys on the street doing traffic stops and responding to calls can be effective intel gatherers with even the most basic of training of what they might encounter and what to look for. This is especially true as the nexus between criminal networks and terror networks continues to grow.
  • Stop legitimizing CAIR and other extremist groups. You certainly want to develop relationships and ties to your local Muslim community, but these groups are not representative of such. In some cases, they represent the very parties that pose the "down the road" threat in your area. As CAIR has shown, they will use contact with your department as a propaganda tool to claim leadership and push out more moderate voices. Find out who the real Muslim leaders are in our area.
As LTC Myers and I discovered first-hand last month, local law enforcement is a vast potential resource in Homeland Security. Increasingly, local and state agencies are being more proactive in cultivating those resources to better protect and serve their own communities. As this trend continues there are certain to be jurisdictional turf wars, but the end result of increasing local involvement in counterterror efforts to compliment what is already ongoing on the federal level can only benefit everyone in the long term. More and more we see evidence that local law enforcement are key players in defending our country against the global terror threat.

Patrick Poole is an occasional contributor to American Thinker. He is the Executive Director of Central Ohioans Against Terrorism, and he maintains a blog, Existential Space.
Last month I had the pleasure of briefing a large group of local and state law enforcement officials on the Islamic extremist threat in their area. My interaction with these professionals reminded me that they are THE frontline defenders in the War on Terror and play an indispensable role in our Homeland Security.

Joining me in speaking at this event was my friend and occasional American Thinker contributor, LTC Joseph C. Myers  What struck us both is how quickly they "got it" when presented with the right amount of actionable information about what Islamic extremist groups were already operating in their communities. It was also impressive to see some of these agencies and departments who were doing very high-quality counterterror investigations even with limited personnel and financial resources. And in this case, those departments were working together to share that knowledge.

Having been raised in a police family (both my father and brother are retired from the job), I'm familiar with the unique instincts developed by police officers day-by-day as they go about their beat. Recognizing something or someone out of place and a natural curiosity are necessary tools to being a good cop. However, one does not develop these skills and instincts sitting at a desk; they come from doing hundreds of traffic stops, shaking door knobs, talking to people and doing patrols in the community every day.

The value of this irreplaceable asset in the War on Terror was seen this past weekend when a Berkeley County, South Carolina police officer pulled over two men on a routine traffic stop and discovered incendiary devices in the car in a search after he observed one of the suspects attempting to hide a laptop underneath his seat. The two men, Youssef Megahed and Ahmed Mohamed, both University of South Florida students (former stomping grounds of Sami Al-Arian), were charged on Monday.

In addition to good standard police work in the field, many local departments, such as the ones in attendance at the conference LTC Myers and I spoke at, are committed to developing their own local intelligence capabilities. In the current issue of City Journal, Judith Miller takes a close look at the local law enforcement intel operations of the NYPD and LAPD, "On the Front Line in the War on Terrorism."

As Miller points out in her article, New York City in particular has developed an impressive operation with hundreds of full-time personnel meeting with informants, doing undercover work, and analysts looking at open source information for developing threats as part of a "preventative approach" on the local level. In Los Angeles, they have had to adapt the same preventative approach to their local political circumstances.

What this trend of local intel units indicates is that while FBI and Homeland Security efforts might be all well and good, local law enforcement authorities facing growing terror threats are not content to believe the Feds can handle the task all on their own. Citing an incident in Summer 2003 involving a reported "dirty bomb" threat (which later proved to be false), Miller reports that the NYPD discovered the peril of relying exclusively on federal agencies: "What we learned from that episode was that when and if we needed federal assets, we were still on our own, even after 9/11," one former official told Miller. This assessment from the city that suffered the brunt of the 9/11 attacks.

While this preventative approach might occasionally stumble on or uncover an active immediate terror plot, it really is intended to address the "down the road" threat that federal agencies just simply don't have to time to look at. One only needs to observe what is happening currently in the UK, France or Sweden regarding the rapid escalation of Islamic extremism to see the wisdom in that strategy.

One problem is that few departments have the ability to create the intelligence infrastructure anywhere near what NYC and LA have. But there are some strategic steps local law enforcement leaders can dramatically improve their department's capabilities to address growing threats:
  • Realize that the Federal government will not save you. The response to Hurricane Katrina should provide ready evidence of this, but also understand that federal agencies responsible for counterterrorism are simply swamped just dealing with immediate threats. They do not have sufficient manpower to catch every single threat. This makes working with federal agencies all the more imperative. Communicate regularly to your political leaders the message that counterterrorism is also a local and state government issue.
  • Invest in dedicated personnel as much as possible. Even if you are only designating a few individuals to be responsible for tracking local threats, having someone looking at these issues everyday is much preferable to creating a squad and spreading their duties out in multiple areas. And don't make counterterrorism the last stop before retirement. Utilize seasoned personnel, but remember that it is the "down the road" threat you're looking at. The effectiveness of your department's efforts in that regard will be significantly diminished if you're rotating counterterrorism personnel every 2-3 years due to retirements.
  • Develop public/private partnerships. Some of the best experts in some areas of the counterterrorism field are not in government. For example, the Southern Poverty Law Center is one of the best resources for any law enforcement agency to get trained on the threat from neo-Nazi and other racist organizations. And at times private partners are able to go beyond what law enforcement can occasionally do in terms of intel gathering and open source data mining.
  • Be smart about your Homeland Security funds. You would think this would be common sense, but in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, Homeland Security funds were used a few years ago to purchase bulletproof vests for their K-9 units. I'm sure they thought this was a worthy cause, but in an area where we have had one of the largest known al-Qaeda cells in the US, was that really the best use of that money? Is it any wonder that Columbus was near the bottom of the list for the recent announcement of forthcoming Homeland Security funds?
  • Provide opportunities for field personnel to get even minimal training in potential local threats. The guys on the street doing traffic stops and responding to calls can be effective intel gatherers with even the most basic of training of what they might encounter and what to look for. This is especially true as the nexus between criminal networks and terror networks continues to grow.
  • Stop legitimizing CAIR and other extremist groups. You certainly want to develop relationships and ties to your local Muslim community, but these groups are not representative of such. In some cases, they represent the very parties that pose the "down the road" threat in your area. As CAIR has shown, they will use contact with your department as a propaganda tool to claim leadership and push out more moderate voices. Find out who the real Muslim leaders are in our area.
As LTC Myers and I discovered first-hand last month, local law enforcement is a vast potential resource in Homeland Security. Increasingly, local and state agencies are being more proactive in cultivating those resources to better protect and serve their own communities. As this trend continues there are certain to be jurisdictional turf wars, but the end result of increasing local involvement in counterterror efforts to compliment what is already ongoing on the federal level can only benefit everyone in the long term. More and more we see evidence that local law enforcement are key players in defending our country against the global terror threat.

Patrick Poole is an occasional contributor to American Thinker. He is the Executive Director of Central Ohioans Against Terrorism, and he maintains a blog, Existential Space.