Lead Role on Terror Falls to Local Cops; Other Duties Follow
Police officials across the country say that protecting their communities from rapists, robbers, con men and killers is no longer enough.
While federal cooperation is weak and some politicians balk at the idea, police plan to become the front-line defense against terrorism, rooting out terrorist cells in the nation's cities and helping to stop attacks before they happen.
That's going to mean intense intelligence-gathering by local police; more police at transportation hubs and public events; new ties between local, state and federal law enforcement agencies; and possibly more cost to taxpayers for less-personalized police services. "Law enforcement (officers) have become domestic warriors," said Palm Beach County, Fla., Sheriff Ed Bieluch. "You have to stop terrorists before the airplane leaves the ground."
That's why, since Sept. 11, the new buzzword in law enforcement circles is "intelligence." Most police agencies have had intelligence units for years, so it's not a new concept. They run electronic surveillance operations, work with informants and analyze crime data. But they've traditionally been focused on the old law enforcement standbys: drugs, gangs and organized crime.
Now, police departments around the country are changing or adding intelligence units that will solely gather information on foreign and domestic terrorist networks.
But maybe the locals shouldn't be involved in investigating terrorist groups, said state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite, a Brooksville, Fla., Republican who helps guide Florida's anti-terrorism efforts as chairwoman of the Select Committee on Public Security and Crisis Management. She said the level of sophistication in police agencies varies so widely that state legislators were concerned about giving them too much power. It's basically about numbers and street smarts, according to Dan Oates, the former head of the New York Police Department's Intelligence Unit and now chief of police in Ann Arbor, Mich.
There are 12,000 FBI agents in the country, compared with 650,000 police officers, he said, and "no FBI agent in the world knows Ann Arbor better than my detectives. Plug them into the game and let them play. "Right now we're not in the terrorism hunt, and we should be."
One of the keys for local cops will be sharing information, and officials are working out ways to bridge traditional interagency rivalries.
Turf wars still are fairly common in law enforcement. To locals, the worst offenders are the feds -- and worst among them is the FBI.
Nationally, police chiefs and sheriffs have been complaining that the FBI has not shared enough information since Sept. 11. Even New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has asked Congress to mandate that the FBI share intelligence with local law enforcement.
"This is typical of the FBI and some of the other federal agencies," said Bieluch, sheriff of the Florida county where many of the Sept. 11 terrorists lived and trained. "We should be a valuable asset to them, and we're not.
"When we don't get the proper information, it hampers our ability to respond, because we don't know what's going on."
The feds seem to be listening, though. In a recent speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, FBI Director Robert Mueller called the current situation "unacceptable."
"We're doing the best we can," said Paul Bresson, an FBI spokesman in Washington. "We recognize that the communication is not perhaps as good as it should be and we're working on that. The director has made it a priority."
Now, law enforcement leaders are wondering how to balance the dual demands of crime fighting and anti-terrorism.
"We're kind of writing the book as we go along," said Capt. Al Tierney, head of the Alexandria, Va., Police Department's anti-terrorism unit. "We've never had anything like this before."
Many police agencies, operating on limited budgets, were already strained for resources before Sept. 11.
From Massachusetts to California, Florida to Michigan, the call is already going out for federal funding. The locals say they can't handle the expense of the terrorist threat without money from the feds.
Thomas O'Loughlin, police chief of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority Police Department, said his agency has begun patrolling Boston subways with dogs almost every day, bought gas masks, assigned a detective to terrorist investigations and replaced trash receptacles with explosion-resistant containers.
And it all comes at great expense. "There's no way that local communities are going to be able to handle the cost," he said. But the extra money, which will come from taxpayer pockets, may not buy the kind of personal attention people want.
Law enforcement leaders say there may have to be cuts in services. That may mean reporting stolen cars and other crimes by telephone, instead of sending an officer come to the scene, and disbanding nonessential police programs such as DARE. Even traffic enforcement may suffer, police say.
But that doesn't mean cops will stop enforcing the law. Police and sheriff's officials all are adamant: They will continue to find ways to address crime issues.
And that may be one of the best ways to fight terrorism, according to Sullivan, with the Los Angeles terrorism unit. He said the British -- long targets of the IRA -- have learned that terrorist attacks occur less frequently in areas where police practice high-profile crime prevention.