Local Law Enforcement's Counterterrorism Initiatives Have Evolved into All-Hazards Strategies

For Release

October 28, 2010

Law enforcement agencies in areas where terrorist threats are considered to be high have expanded their focus beyond traditional crime prevention and investigation to include counterterrorism and homeland security operations, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

Supported by the U.S. Department of Justice, the study finds that nine years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks one challenge facing law enforcement agencies is how to balance these new investments with traditional law enforcement priorities.

The study by the RAND Center on Quality Policing relies primarily on in-depth case studies of five large urban law enforcement areas: the Boston Police Department, the Houston Police Department, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Miami-Dade Police Department.

terrorist threat is considered to be high, and they reflect various differences in experience with counterterrorism and homeland security missions.

“September 11 changed how state and local law enforcement do their jobs, particularly those departments located in or near urban areas, or in jurisdictions where the terrorist threat is considered high,” said study author Lois M. Davis, a senior policy researcher at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “Law enforcement saw the need to keep their constituents safe by developing counterterrorism and homeland security capabilities, including specialized units and bureaus, and developing the required expertise.”

One critical change is the adoption of the “fusion center” model, Davis says. Fusion centers take an all-crimes, all-hazards approach to intelligence collection, information-sharing and analysis. The centers have helped formalize information exchange among law enforcement agencies, with smaller agencies realizing spillover benefits in terms of greater access to information.

Davis says a challenge is that larger law enforcement agencies disproportionately contribute to these information-sharing networks by playing a coordination, analytic and administrative role. Given this central role, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security may wish to consider what additional support — especially personnel — these agencies may need to continue to effectively operate fusion centers.

The study identifies several trends that underlie the shift toward an all-crime, all-hazards approach to intelligence analysis and information-sharing, including:

  • Fusion centers are using information technology to organize virtually and to share information, allowing more agencies to coordinate, reducing the resource commitments required.
  • The focus on counterterrorism and homeland security has promoted the use of technology that provides a means to identify the nexus between different types of criminal activity and potential terrorist-related activity.
  • Federal funding has encouraged a regional, multi-jurisdictional approach to improving coordination among law enforcement agencies.

A challenge facing law enforcement is how to manage the expansion of these information-sharing networks, ensure the participation of all stakeholders and ensure flexibility in homeland security grant programs to account for variation in local needs and capabilities.

Researchers say that as law enforcement becomes more specialized there also is a growing need to develop a career track for those with counterterrorism and homeland security expertise. The special skills required differ from the traditional career progression of law enforcement personnel, who typically must change positions every several years to advance. Using the traditional path, agencies lose their investment in expertise and the network of contacts crucial to these positions.

One possible solution is to have intelligence analysts be career civilians who are overseen by rotating sworn officers, Davis said. Another option would be to renegotiate counterterrorism and homeland security assignments so that personnel have indefinite or longer terms, which would allow sworn officers to remain in these specialized units for extended periods of time.

The study, “Long-Term Effects of Law Enforcement's Post-9/11 Focus on Counterterrorism and Homeland Security,” can be found at www.rand.org.

The Center on Quality Policing is part of the RAND Safety and Justice Program within RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment. The center's mission is to help guide the efforts of police agencies to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and fairness of their operations.

About RAND

RAND is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.