In a news release sent Tuesday, Morgan County Sheriff Jim Petty said there needs to be more open dialogue and information sharing between the federal government and local law enforcement officials when it comes to individuals listed on the terrorist watch list or under investigation for terrorist activities.
Sheriff Petty said right now there is no communication with federal law enforcement on this matter and says local law enforcement comes in contact with these people on a daily basis without having any knowledge of their activities.
Sheriff Petty asked “If these individuals are on a watch list, then who better to watch them than law enforcement officers who have constant contact with them.”
Shierff Petty said right now there is no good system in place for local law enforcement to report suspicious activity to the federal government or for the federal government to notify them.
Sheriff Petty is now calling on other local law enforcement agencies to get involved to help improve the process.
ORIGINAL STORY: The man responsible for an Orlando nightclub shooting was twice the target of an FBI investigation, and once was on the agency’s Terrorist Screening Database, according to FBI head James Comey Monday.
Despite these past contacts with federal authorities in suspicion of terrorism, 29-year-old Omar Mateen was still able to purchase two guns a week before the shooting that killed 49 people in a Florida gay club Sunday morning. In Missouri, Cole County Sheriff Greg White said in most cases, many local law enforcement officers are also unaware if someone is on the FBI’s terrorist watch list.
“Unless it’s a member of your agency that would be on a joint terrorism task force, shy of that, we really have no involvement with terrorism watch lists,” Sheriff White told ABC 17 News Monday.
Comey told the public Monday that the FBI kept Mateen on the terrorist watch list for 10 months, from 2013 to 2014, after co-workers said he made comments that seemed sympathetic to terrorists. Mateen told investigators then that he spoke out of anger from teasing at work for being Muslim. The FBI briefly opened a second investigation knowing Mateen had contacted an American that conducted a suicide bombing, but found that contact minimal.
Sheriff White did not specifically say whether he supported making previous terrorism investigations part of a person’s record, but said anything to improve the flow of information from the federal government to the local law departments would help. Since a person’s status on a terrorism database would not appear in a routine computer check locally, White suggested a system that alerts the federal government that a local agency made contact with that person.
“That data could be transmitted to the FBI, U.S. Marshal Service, ATF, and it wouldn’t involve a lot of banter or time or anything else, but it would provide the database,” White said.
The outgoing sheriff added that he often gets a good response from the local field agents regarding suspicious activity he sees, but not all deputies can reach an agent in the middle of the night.
With refugees fleeing countries terrorist groups like ISIS – whom Mateen said he supported just before the attack, among other conflicting terrorist groups – White said he would like a broader flow of information of people coming into the country. White said agencies like the U.S. military may have specific information on those with connections to the groups that fought against the country since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2002.
“The vast majority of people that immigrate are really good people,” White said. “But if there’s people that are known in other places for terrorist connections or affiliations, that information should be passed forward, because we should be able to make a legitimate, valued decisions on that.”
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