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January 21, 2004

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PERF asks FBI to focus on terrorism

A police advocacy group is urging the FBI to leave drug, bank robbery, and carjacking investigations to local police so the bureau can focus more on preventing terrorism.

The Police Executive Research Forum, a non-profit group of more than 1,000 law enforcement executives, also is calling on the FBI to improve cooperation with local police. Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, some local officials have complained that federal law enforcement officers have not shared enough information about potential terrorism threats and other matters.

The forum's push for the FBI to drop some of its traditional crime-solving duties to better address terrorism represents local law enforcement officials' strongest endorsement to date of realignment plans being discussed within the bureau. Some police agencies and the banking industry have expressed alarm over such proposals. They say state and local authorities -- which also are devising ways to combat terrorism -- could be overwhelmed by the additional work and expense.

FBI Director Robert Mueller has been discussing various restructuring plans for the bureau with congressional leaders and local law enforcement authorities. But crucial details have not been resolved, including how local police would respond to federal offenses such as bank robberies and drug trafficking in the FBI's absence.

FBI spokesman John Collingwood said that groups such as Wexler's are "proving valuable in helping to reshape the bureau."

Among those concerned about the bureau's reorganization proposals is the American Bankers Association.

Edward Yingling, the association's executive director of government relations, said industry officials plan to meet with FBI and budget officials on Capitol Hill to urge the continued support of federal law enforcement in handling bank robbery cases.

Bank robberies declined nationwide along with other types of crime from 1996 through 1999 but increased in 2000 and 2001. Those increases, although slight, have raised concerns among banking officials about a reduced federal presence in robbery investigations.

Until recently, Yingling says, it would not have been appropriate to raise the issue with the FBI, which continues to conduct a worldwide probe of terrorist cells, but feels that five months after Sept. 11, it is now an appropriate time.

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