THE MAGAZINE

Urban Area Perspective: San Diego

By Matthew Harwood

Andy Mills is a lieutenant and commanding officer of Criminal Intelligence and Counter Terrorism for the San Diego Police Department (SDPD). He previously served two tours in the SDPD Gang Unit where he implemented intelligence-led policing, created an in-house intelligence database, and managed the CalGang node. Mills was the 2000 recipient of the Police Executive Research Forum’s national Gary P. Hayes Award for his contributions to improving the quality of police service. In addition, Mills managed one patrol team that won the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing and three other patrols that were Goldstein finalists. Mills recently coauthored an issue brief for the Homeland Security Policy Institute called “Running a Three-Legged Race: The San Diego Police Department, The Intelligence Community, and Counterterrorism.”

What type of terrorism threats does the city of San Diego face?

We have four major threat streams that we look at: violent extremism of all types including jihadism; major Mexican drug cartels; gangs, including street gangs, prison gangs, and transnational gangs; and then antigovernment groups, mostly from the right-wing, like militias. There are others on the radar screen, but those are the main ones.

Did the right-wing terrorism attack in Norway change your methodology in any way?

It did not, and I’ll tell you why: because we already considered the right-wing extremist a serious threat. I was able to tell my chief that we were already on that. That’s the hard thing for people to understand. Violence isn’t a cornerstone for one individual ideology; it's spread across the map. But I do think right-wing extremism is the next big threat that our country is going to have to address if President Obama wins reelection.

In your paper, you wrote that “local police departments remain all but absent from the counterterrorism efforts of America’s intelligence community.” Why is that?

Police departments are mostly absent, minus a few shining examples, from the intelligence process because we have not done our job. We have not focused on setting intelligence priorities nor have we professionalized from the standpoint of collecting human intelligence (HUMINT). What we’ve done is settled for picking the low hanging fruit rather than getting out of our comfort zone and really trying to work high-level sources.

The other part of it is sometimes there’s a lack of trust on the part of our federal partners. When you put 800,000 boots on the ground, it creates a lot of well-intended “white noise.” We get hundreds of calls for service like this: “A Middle-Eastern man taking pictures of a stadium.” No one wants to let a terror tip die without being thoroughly vetted, so FBI agents and San Diego police detectives chase all these leads down that are nonsensical and occur because a tipster doesn’t trust a person of Middle Eastern descent, which is absolutely ridiculous.

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