When there’s a terrorist attack, who are the first government officials on the scene? It isn’t personnel from the CIA, NSA, FBI or the military. More often than not, it’s a local cop.
When terrible events strike—such as the recent attacks against military personnel in Canada and against New York City Police officers on a Queens street, the beat cop closest to the action is often critical to controlling the scene and securing evidence. But is he or she prepared to handle a potentially terrorist-related crisis?
This is not just some abstract issue. The 2009 Fort Hood shooting and 2010 Boston Marathon bombings ushered in the reality that an attack on the homeland will probably be a smaller strike rather than a large-scale organized attack like 9/11. As the Intelligence Community, including the FBI, sifts through terabytes of information in an attempt to thwart the next attack, local and state police agencies are also working—often with far fewer resources than their federal counterparts—to do the same.
I’ve seen this dynamic play out first-hand. I’ve previously worked as a CIA analyst, and currently serve as a senior intelligence analyst in a New York area police department. I’ve witnessed how the law enforcement community is being forced to do more with less – less training and less money, that is.
Since 9/11, the federal government has tried to forge better intelligence strategies and foster information sharing between federal, state and local forces, with some success. Local police departments have been working in regional fusion centers like the New York State Intelligence Center, which houses representatives from the State Police, Department of Motor Vehicles, Parole, FBI, among several other organizations. There remains room, however, for improvement for making sure intelligence flows both to local police forces and to federal agencies.
In the last decade or so, law enforcement organizations have become aware of the importance of having intelligence analysts on the payroll. Larger police agencies, such as the NYPD and LAPD, have robust programs that use intelligence-led policing. This type of police work fosters collaboration not only amongst but also within agencies. Crime and intelligence analysts can be found in both federal and local law enforcement agencies, even departments as small as the Pharr Police Department in Texas that services a population of approximately 73,000.
Intelligence programs can offer smarter policing approaches to departments that often struggle with a limited budget. After all, the work produced by local police is valuable not only for thwarting terrorism but also for reducing crime. Intelligence programs focus on terrorism, gang violence, financial crimes, narcotics trafficking, and other issues, creating an environment meant to efficiently analyze and disseminate actionable intelligence for law enforcement.
The police are also the best link to the local community. While reporting suspected terrorist activities to federal agencies, local law enforcement also monitors “persons of interest” who may turn out to be homegrown terrorists. Furthermore, by using tips from the public, social media, and other open sources, police agencies are oftentimes the best positioned to actively thwart terrorist attacks and other criminal activities—much more so than the feds. By properly training local police officers in the complexities of gathering intelligence, they can be a real force-multiplier for stopping the next attack.
Pictures of the aftermath of homeland terror attacks typically display police officers racing into a chaotic situation to save lives and secure property. Iconic pictures, like the images of first responders running into a burning World Trade Center or the Boston police officers leaping towards the explosion to assist the injured, testify to the bravery and the dedication to the mission of those officers. Those men and women in uniform were responding to criminal activity, except on those days, the crimes were classified as terrorism.
The feds need to do more to recognize the role local police agencies play in intelligence instead of providing dated training and mixed messages. For example, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Guide for Law Enforcement Intelligence was written in 2004, and last updated in 2009. In the intelligence world, five years without updated training guidance is tantamount to having little training at all. Even more alarming, Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent remarks at the recent International Association of Chiefs of Police conference made no mention of terrorism or intelligence, an odd omission given recent attacks targeting police officers.
Intelligence programs give law enforcement officers a chance to evolve from mere first responders to active participants in the intelligence world. The federal government needs to make law enforcement intelligence a real priority; one way to achieve this is by providing uniform analytic and situational awareness training for police agencies around the country. Furthermore, we must better empower our local law enforcement with the appropriate resources to produce actionable intelligence because they ultimately serve on the front lines of fighting domestic terrorism.
When confronting the threats that challenge America, it’s time to give our local police forces more of the support they need.
Nectaria Krokidis Gelardi previously worked as a CIA analyst and as a corporate security investigator focusing on emergency management and threat assessments. She is currently a Senior Intelligence Analyst at a New York area Police Department, where she helped launch the civilian intelligence program. Nectaria is also an adjunct instructor in the Homeland and Corporate Security Program at St. John’s University.
photo: On Sept. 11, 2014 Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson visited the 9/11 memorial, and met with members of NYPD and FDNY, along with families who lost loved ones during the tragedies of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City. Official DHS photo by Barry Bahler.
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