Think Locally, Act Nationally

Police Efforts in Fighting Terrorism Need Greater Federal Leadership

By K. Jack Riley, Jeremy M. Wilson, Gregory F. Treverton, and Barbara Raymond

Jack Riley is associate director of RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment. Jeremy Wilson is associate director of the Center on Quality Policing at RAND. Greg Treverton is a senior analyst at RAND. Barbara Raymond, a consultant on public safety and security, is a former RAND analyst.

Virtually everyone agrees that the U.S. war on terrorism should involve local police departments and state law enforcement agencies. Nonetheless, such efforts have been spotty, incomplete, and devoid of a coordinated national strategy. Two counterterrorism concerns that call for greater national leadership today are (a) police personnel policies and (b) state and local intelligence activities.

The expanded set of police responsibilities since 9/11 has required a commensurately expanded set of police skills. Police departments are increasingly being asked to take on duties that fall within the homeland security arena. At the same time, departments across the country are short staffed and finding it increasingly difficult to recruit qualified personnel to perform traditional tasks. All police departments could benefit from a federal effort to address the shared problems of personnel recruitment and retention. As local police departments are called on to play a larger role in national security, there is a compelling need for the federal government to play a larger role in contributing to the development of local police capabilities.

All police departments could benefit from a federal effort to address the shared problems of personnel recruitment and retention.

With respect to intelligence activities, state and local law enforcement agencies could be uniquely positioned to augment federal intelligence capabilities by virtue of being present in nearly every American community, knowing local individuals and groups, and already using intelligence to combat crime. However, the bulk of local intelligence activity is now concentrated among larger police agencies that typically pay for the work themselves, receiving little or no explicit federal support.

In fact, the federal government today is showing less interest in providing such support than it once did. The proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2007 includes a 41 percent cut from fiscal year 2006 in the law enforcement assistance programs run by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The combined budget for such programs run by the two departments would be $105 million less in 2007 than the amount received by the justice department alone in 2004. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has noted that the proposed budget would mark a ten-year low in federal funding for the assistance programs.

Effectively integrating the vast supply of state and local counterterrorism resources into a coordinated national strategy will depend on addressing six critical issues. Two pertain to police personnel policies: strategic planning support from federal authorities and a workforce planning model for local police agencies. Four pertain to state and local intelligence activities: resources, training, development of doctrine, and guidance from the courts regarding civil liberties.

Greensboro Police officer Ron Stewart scans the crowd during a college basketball game.


Greensboro Police officer Ron Stewart scans the crowd during a college basketball game in Greensboro, N.C., on March 10. The FBI said there was no specific, credible threat of a terrorist attack at college basketball arenas but acknowledged alerting law enforcement officials of an Internet posting discussing such attacks.

Police Personnel Policies

A clear argument can be made for national leadership on police personnel issues. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, local police agencies have accepted new duties related to homeland security, especially in jurisdictions with likely terrorist targets, such as airports and seaports. Police officers have also assumed new intelligence duties, such as working with federal law enforcement officials to identify potential terrorist activity.

In some ways, the homeland security mission draws on traditional police skills, such as helping to prevent crimes and attacks against people and places. In other ways, the mission places greater emphasis on new skills, such as responding to attacks involving chemical, biological, and other unconventional weapons. Many police managers believe the expanded responsibilities require additional officers as well as new skills.

At the same time, police departments are anticipating a wave of retirements among aging baby boomers and are reexamining the skills needed by young recruits. Numerous departments are adopting more community-policing policies, which emphasize communications skills. Adding to the challenge, police departments could now face growing competition for recruits from an expanding number of federal and private security jobs, exacerbating the competition for staff that already occurs among agencies operating within the same regions.

A good case study of the challenges facing many departments today is the Long Beach Police Department, in Long Beach, a California city of nearly 500,000 residents and about 1,000 sworn police officers. Since 9/11, Long Beach police have shifted resources to boost protection of the city’s seaport, airport, and water treatment facilities. Detectives have been reassigned from a white-collar crime unit to a new counterterrorism unit. However, staffing has been reduced among officers assigned to the narcotics division, foot patrols, and lower-urgency programs, such as youth drug-awareness efforts.

As do many police departments, the Long Beach Police Department uses standard computerized programs to help deploy officers on patrol. But there are no such tools available to help the department balance its standard deployment needs with the new demands for homeland security.

Given the nature of their work, police departments usually focus on short-term objectives, such as daily staffing needs and mandatory training requirements. But to adapt to the new homeland security duties and the changing labor force, police departments will also need to develop long-term plans for recruiting enough new officers with the right skills.

Some departments could develop their own strategies to recruit new officers. These departments could, for example, analyze the skills needed among future officers, forecast the number of personnel needed for future challenges, and survey young people to gauge their interest in police work. Surveys on youth demographics and attitudes could also indicate whether the departments need to make changes to attract the best candidates. Further strategic planning might also help resolve debates within many departments over whether to modify entry requirements, such as accepting candidates who are less physically fit, who have histories of prior drug use, or who have financial debts — or, conversely, requiring successful candidates to have accumulated a greater minimum number of college credits.

But most police departments do not have the resources to study long-term issues in this way. Rather, many departments find themselves busier than ever with expanded daily duties while being caught in the midst of a period of rapid change.

An alternative and most likely superior approach would be if the forecasting and planning for police personnel needs could be spearheaded at the national level, either by the U.S. Department of Justice or by a national trade organization. A central national clearinghouse for police personnel information would be particularly beneficial for small police departments. Many states also have organizations that could assist with police personnel planning.

Congress has an important role as well. Congress should recognize that federal laws designed to fight terrorism typically increase the demand for local police services and have serious implications for police personnel. Therefore, Congress should examine how to allocate federal resources accordingly.

Intelligence Activities

To assess how state and local intelligence activities have developed since 9/11 and how they could develop further, we carried out three studies. We analyzed data from a 2002 survey on counterterrorism preparedness among 259 state and local law enforcement agencies across the United States. We conducted case studies of eight metropolitan police departments. And we analyzed the available statistics on wiretaps and related activities, including oversight of these activities, to understand how these types of state and local efforts contribute to national efforts.

The survey revealed the extent to which the state and local agencies were engaging in counterterrorism intelligence activity in 2002. Fully 75 percent of the states had specialized counterterrorism units, compared with just 16 percent of local agencies that reported having such units. Likewise, state agencies had greater experience with incident management and response, incident investigations, and hoaxes. Local units typically had limited missions (primarily information sharing). State units were more likely to take on more-expansive roles.

Most State Law Enforcement Agencies Reported Terrorist Groups Operating Within Their Jurisdictions; Most Local Agencies Did Not
Most State Law Enforcement Agencies Reported Terrorist Groups Operating Within Their Jurisdictions; Most Local Agencies Did Not

SOURCE: State and Local Intelligence in the War on Terrorism, 2005.

In general, state agencies reported greater awareness of terrorist operations and threats than did local agencies. Substantial majorities of state agencies indicated knowledge of terrorist groups operating within their states, whereas only small minorities of local agencies indicated knowledge of such groups operating within their jurisdictions (see the figure).

Among local police departments, the bulk of the activity was concentrated among the larger departments. There was a correlation between the size of a local agency and its threat assessment activity: The larger the agency, the more likely it was to have done a threat assessment.

About a third of local agencies had participated in the FBI’s joint terrorism task forces (JTTFs). In a JTTF, several intelligence, homeland security, and law enforcement authorities from federal, state, and local agencies collaborate on terrorism prevention and intelligence under FBI supervision. Once again, we found that the larger the local agency, the more likely it would have participated in a JTTF. Nearly all state agencies had collaborated with JTTFs.

We expect that the situation has changed, and no doubt improved somewhat, since 2002. But the survey gave us a baseline against which future progress could be measured, and it raised key concerns. The primary one is that many local agencies lacked experience with and exposure to terrorism issues. Typically, they had not responded to incidents, were less likely to claim that there were radical groups in their jurisdictions, and were less likely to operate specialized units or functions. The survey informed us about what types of issues to explore in the case studies.

Maryland law enforcement officials discuss port security at the Port of Baltimore.


Maryland law enforcement officials discuss port security at the Port of Baltimore on Feb. 21. They are, from left, Maryland Director of Homeland Security Dennis Schrader, Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Maryland Port Administrator Brooks Royster, Maryland Secretary of Transportation Robert Flanagan, and Maryland Transportation Authority Police Chief Gary McLhinney.

In the case studies, we have since found that state and local agencies are typically paying for intelligence activities “out of their own hides.” That is, they are not receiving explicit federal support but are paying for the activities out of internal reallocations that often take money away from other law enforcement programs. Among local police departments, the counterterrorism intelligence gathering and analysis tend to occur not within separate counterterrorism units but within larger criminal intelligence units. Local police have also increased their staffing for such counterterrorism efforts but have also typically done so at the expense of other policing areas, such as countering gangs, narcotics, fraud and forgery, vice, burglary, and auto theft.

In general, local police departments rely on federal guidelines for shaping their intelligence functions, but most local departments have little capacity to analyze the information they collect or receive. Federal grants have been available for local counterterrorism efforts, but most of the money has been earmarked and used for equipment and consequence management, not for training in intelligence analysis.

Meanwhile, our study on wiretaps revealed that there has been a substantial increase in state and local involvement in wiretapping and related activities since 9/11. To the extent that local involvement in intelligence has occurred through participation in federal task forces, the local surveillance activity has been guided by federal regulations and overseen by federal courts. This has been the ideal division of labor. However, the oversight of locally initiated intelligence programs and intelligence activities independent of federal task forces has been mostly ad hoc, informal, or conducted through local chains of command. This has been less than ideal.

In either case, we found the paucity of local capacity for intelligence analysis to be striking. Only the very largest police departments have any analytic capacity at all. Departments should be capable of taking the guidance provided by federal officials and relating it to an awareness of the local domain.

Both the 2002 survey and the subsequent case studies have pointed to a further concern: The work of the JTTFs have been constrained because state and local participants are required to have security clearances at the level of their FBI counterparts. However, only half of the state and local agencies indicated that all their personnel who had applied for such clearances had received them. It is imperative to find ways to share information and to share it more widely.

In short, the picture of state and local involvement in counterterrorism intelligence is mixed. On the one hand, the involvement is probably not as pervasive as feared among civil libertarians, because relatively few state and local agencies appear to be supporting such activity to any great extent. On the other hand, there has been a marked increase in intelligence activity among the larger police departments that are engaged in it. As a result, a substantial portion of the American population may be in police jurisdictions with active intelligence programs.

Addressing the Critical Issues

Our findings suggest that six major issues need to be addressed with regard to the counterterrorism efforts of state and local law enforcement agencies. The first two issues pertain to police personnel management in light of the new mission of homeland security. The subsequent four issues pertain to intelligence activities conducted at the state and local levels.

1. Although strategic planning by local police agencies is critical to effective force management, such planning can be a challenge for departments without analytic resources. All departments should be examining the services that they expect to continue to provide, any anticipated changes in services linked to significant population or other environmental changes, any new or expanded services for homeland security or other missions, and the skills needed among future police officers. Ideally, a national resource would exist to provide support for local departmental efforts at strategic planning.

State and local agencies are typically paying for intelligence activities “out of their own hides.”

2. An important next step for the nation is to develop a strategic planning “model” for local police personnel allocation. For example, a simple spreadsheet or computer software program could allow local police leaders to input a set of straightforward variables — such as current workforce characteristics, desired workforce characteristics in five years, estimated attrition, and trends in the labor pool — and could then illustrate when hiring should occur, what types of officers should be hired, and how many. Such a police deployment model would incorporate key elements common to most police departments across the country but would depend on the input of factors specific to each agency. Such a model should be pilot tested in several cities in the country.

3. The financial sustainability of state and local counterterrorism intelligence activities (and, more generally, state and local homeland security missions) is in question. Funding for these activities is not coming from the federal government but is being borne by state and local budgets. It remains unclear whether state and local agencies will continue to support these activities as other demands on them increase. It is also unclear whether these activities assist with or detract from traditional crime prevention activities at the local level.

On the one hand, municipalities consistently report that they are redirecting traditional crime-fighting resources to support homeland security missions. These redirections have unknown consequences for staffing, morale, and preparedness for traditional missions of crime prevention and response at a time when many communities are experiencing surges in traditional forms of crime. On the other hand, some state and local agencies report that counterterrorism intelligence activities might increase their effectiveness against organized crime, drug trafficking, and gang activity by building skills that are critical to confronting such problems.

To our knowledge, no credible analysis of the consequences has been performed. This deficiency should be remedied so that we could begin to determine the costs and benefits of current methods of funding state and local counterterrorism intelligence activities.

4. The training of state and local personnel involved in intelligence activity appears insufficient. The primary local level. Training would include techniques for increasing awareness of the local domain and for undertaking local threat assessments. Training would also address another concern: the widely varied and ad hoc nature of counterterrorism intelligence guidelines among the states, which complicates coordination.

Law enforcement organizations, too, must be “trained.” They should develop clear mission statements, adopt minimum standards for data collection, develop proper file maintenance standards, and implement appropriate staff training and certification processes.

It is worth noting that centralized training might permit improved federal oversight. The existing oversight mechanisms are largely a product of local decisionmaking processes. A central training program would permit federal authorities to make better cross-jurisdiction comparisons and to gain greater insight into the myriad formulations of local intelligence programs now operating.

5. Scant doctrine for shaping state and local intelligence activity exists. The process of developing, organizing, and managing state and local participation in counterterrorism intelligence is largely improvised. Most localities develop their own policies and procedures without strong guidance on many issues. It seems likely that there will be an increasing need for doctrine, or fundamental principles, to guide federal, state, and local actions. Since most state and local agencies participate in counterterrorism intelligence activities through the JTTFs, the task forces are one logical mechanism for developing a clear, consistent doctrine.

There are alternative ways that the federal government can accomplish this same goal. For example, greater federal funding for state and local intelligence agencies would permit a greater regulatory role over what is now a fairly loose process. Such a structure would give local police an incentive to develop internal guidelines and external oversight by tying them to funding.

Similarly, the federal government could pay the cost of an “intelligence supervisor” for eligible law enforcement agencies. The supervisor would have a role analogous to that of the federal security director at airports, who provides day-to-day security direction, even though airport operations are mostly local functions. In the same way, an intelligence supervisor could be selected by national authorities, such as the FBI, and trained according to national intelligence standards. Although law enforcement throughout the United States is fundamentally local in nature, there is no reason that law enforcement intelligence needs to be.

These three options for instituting a federal role in developing doctrine do not constitute an exhaustive list. Nor should their mention here be construed as endorsing any particular approach. Indeed, none of them addresses the role that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies should play in interacting with state and local agencies. But all three options underline the need to clarify the federal role in state and local counterterrorism intelligence activities.

6. The courts — the federal courts in particular — should strike the balance between privacy and civil liberties, on the one hand, and national security on the other. Even homeland security intelligence officials at the federal level feel they have little guidance when deciding what they should do with information they collect, especially about American citizens. Can federal officials keep the information in government databases? For how long? And on what basis? It will be up to the courts to enforce proper guidelines when constitutional or statutory standards apply and to put pressure on the executive branch to issue clear guidelines when such standards do not apply.

These issues will increasingly be decided by the courts. It will be up to them — the federal courts in particular — to continue assessing whether the relaxed intelligence procedures of the war on terrorism are striking the correct balance between liberty and security.

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