Counter Terror and Homeland Security Work Present Challenges for Law Enforcement

By Laura Spadanuta

The federal government has poured billions of dollars into counterterrorism and homeland security since 9-11, including $1.8 billion in fiscal year 2010. A portion of that funding goes to local law enforcement agencies who have expanded their focus from local crime fighting to include counterterror priorities. 

The post-9-11 focus on counterterror and homeland security has presented challenges to law enforcement, but it has also provided some crime-fighting benefits. The changes are analyzed in a new report from RAND Corporation titled Long-Term Effects of Law Enforcement's Post-9/11 Focus on Counterterrorism and Homeland Security. RAND senior policy researcher Lois Davis discussed the findings on Capitol Hill yesterday.

The research, supported by the National Institute of Justice, used five law enforcement agencies as case studies. The work included in-depth interviews with everyone from administrative workers to members of specialized response teams.

Although federal funds have rolled in for counterterrorism, many of the funds come with stipulations that prevent law enforcement agencies from spending the money on new personnel; instead, funds must be used for training and equipment. This means that departments have had to juggle personnel in order to create counterterror units and properly train officers in homeland security.

This limitation is particularly difficult when more local resources are required for homeland security. For example, study participant Miami-Dade Police Department used to assign two officers to Miami National Airport, but in the post-9-11 world, there are 40 officers assigned, Davis said at yesterday's presentation.

Additionally, the departments are dealing with more attrition and homeland security funds aren't authorized to replace officers. One commander the researchers interviewed stated, "I'd rather give back all of my toys to be able to have my people," Davis said.

Federal grant application, management, and reporting add additional work for departments and National Incident Management System training requirements also take time. It often takes up to two years to train someone to be effective in predictive policing and other counterterror abilities, according to Davis. The nature of police work is that personnel must keep changing jobs in order to advance, so an individual might transfer out of the counterterror unit just as he or she becomes effective, Davis noted. One interviewee said that his department spent $500,000 training one officer who was then transferred out.

Fusion centers were highlighted as an integral tool of law enforcement counterterror and homeland security efforts. The goal of fusion centers is to bring agencies together to provide resources and share information, maxmizing the ability to detect, investigate, and respond to terrorist activity. Fusion centers have encouraged collaboration across law enforcement agencies and enable information sharing.


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