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In the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, local law enforcement agencies in the United States were thrust into counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering roles—responsibilities they had never carried before. Fulfilling these sudden expectations was extremely difficult since local agencies did not have access to the necessary tools—or budget—to fulfill such responsibilities.
Communication with other agencies was also extremely hampered since agencies operated within a fragmented system comprised of more than 15,000 local, independent agencies. In order to enable local law enforcement to take on counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering responsibilities, there first had to be major changes in how agencies gather and share information among themselves.
Focusing First on Improving Communication
After 9/11, improving communication became one of the primary focuses within all levels of law enforcement. The 9/11 Commission, which investigated the events leading up to the terror attacks, found that agencies had not shared information that could have connected the dots to identify terror threats.
For example, a local police agency may have responded to a suspicious incident and uncovered a piece of intelligence, but not had the means or incentive to share it with any other jurisdiction. By not sharing that information, there may have been a missed opportunity to make a connection with information from another agency that could have unveiled a larger terrorist plot (Regan & Monahan, 2013).
Creation of Task Forces
An important step to improve communication in local law enforcement’s counterterrorism efforts involves the creation of joint terrorism task forces (JTTFs). JTTFs promote communication across all levels of law enforcement and they incorporate members’ talents, skills, and knowledge into a single team that combats terrorism together. Today, these task forces are in 104 cities across the U.S. and include approximately 4,000 members from over 500 local and state law enforcement agencies.
Cooperation among agencies has increased and it has become common for local police agencies to liaison out or loan their officers to participate in a JTTF. It is advantageous for an agency to participate since assigned officers can bridge communication gaps and share up-to-date intelligence gathered from the JTTF with their home agency.
Joint terrorism task forces have had success in capturing terrorist cells across the U.S. In addition, they have been credited with stopping attacks in New Jersey, New York, and California.
Creation of Fusion Centers
In addition to JTTFs, fusion centers have been instrumental in utilizing information sharing to stop terrorism. Beginning in 2004-2005 using combined federal and state funds, state fusion centers were created for the purpose of intelligence sharing among local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
[Related: Resources for Local Law Enforcement to Fight Domestic Terrorism]
Currently, there are 77 fusion centers located throughout the U.S. with one in every state and 22 additional facilities in major urban areas such as Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. Fusion centers were formed to serve as state and major urban area focal points for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information among law enforcement, other government services, and private-sector partners.
In addition to sharing criminal intelligence and terrorist information, fusion centers throughout the U.S. established training programs with state and local law enforcement partners. One example of a state intelligence system and training program exists within the fusion center of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This center has long been a proponent of sharing information among law enforcement and fusion centers and developed an intelligence database tool known as “CrimeNtel.”
How CrimeNtel Enhances Intelligence Gathering
First initiated in 2007, CrimeNtel continues to enjoy steady gains in both authorized users and criminal intelligence submissions. Information stored in the CrimeNtel database must meet the “reasonable suspicion” standard, which dictates that each and every criminal intelligence submission must have a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
CrimeNtel’s primary purpose and intent is to provide direct investigative and analytical support to its users. CrimeNtel further houses intelligence information related to all crimes, including terrorism. CrimeNtel is comprised of criminal intelligence information that includes raw information and information obtained from criminal tips, as well as information of evaluated intelligence that is provided by police officers, informants, the general public, and open-source information. All criminal intelligence information entered into CrimeNtel must include an evaluation of the source’s reliability and content validity, as well as the submitting agency and agency official. CrimeNtel accounts are offered to patrol officers, detectives, investigators, and analysts working in more than 300 Massachusetts law enforcement agencies. Accounts and training are provided free of charge.
There have been numerous success stories whereby CrimeNtel provided investigators with key pieces of information needed to successfully resolve cases. One example involved the allegation of a number of individuals participating in a sex trafficking and exploitation ring. Based on initial suspect and possible associate information from the investigating agency, officers were able to assemble key pieces of identifiable information related to the suspects through the use of CrimeNtel. Officers cross referenced this new information with other available investigative resources in order to build a stronger case.
Other CrimeNtel success stories include narcotics tracking cases as well as a large, multistate retail theft/shoplifting operation. Without CrimeNtel, disparate pieces of information would have remained “unlinked,” allowing criminal enterprises to continue operating and victimizing.
More To Be Done to Improve Communication
While the above entities have significantly enhanced the communication and information-gathering abilities of law enforcement, they are far from perfect. There remain communication gaps and ongoing issues that continue to hamper local law enforcement’s ability to effectively combat terrorism. Law enforcement agencies must always seek new and better ways to improve their communication and information-sharing abilities to help maintain the safety and well-being of the public.
Regan, P. M., & Monahan, T. (2013). Beyond counterterrorism: Data sharing, privacy, and organizational histories of DHS fusion centers. International Journal of E-Politics (IJEP), 4(3), 1-14. doi:10.4018/jep.2013070101
By Dr. Chuck Russo, program director of Criminal Justice at American Military University; D.C. Rand, faculty director of Criminal Justice and Homeland Security at American Military University; and Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, faculty member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
About the Authors:
Dr. Chuck Russo is the Program Director of Criminal Justice at American Military University (AMU). He began his career in law enforcement in 1987 in Central Florida and was involved all areas of patrol, training, special operations and investigations before retiring from law enforcement in 2013. Dr. Russo continues to design and instruct courses, as well as act as a consultant for education, government and industry throughout the world. His recent research and presentations focus on emerging technology and law enforcement applications, post-traumatic stress, nongovernment intelligence actors, and online learning. To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.
D.C. Rand is the Faculty Director of Criminal Justice and Homeland Security at American Military University. He began his law enforcement career with the United States Air Force, first as a Security Policeman and then as a Special Agent with the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations. After retiring from active duty, he began the next phase of his professional career first as an Internal Investigator with the TJX Companies and then with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts rising to the position ofTraining Manager with the Massachusetts State Police-Commonwealth Fusion Center. Mr. Rand has since served in various positions in academia prior to his appointment as Faculty Director.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has spent more than two years studying police stress and its influence on the lives of police officers. In particular, Sadulski has conducted a review of approximately 300 peer-reviewed scholarly articles that focused on topics associated with police stress and officer wellness. In addition, he conducted a two-year qualitative study on how successful police officers effectively manage stress throughout their law enforcement career. With a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice, he continues to research effective stress management strategies for police officers to promote resiliency. In addition, Sadulski has 20 years of policing experience between both federal and local law enforcement.