I had the privilege of participating on a panel last week at American University. It was co-sponsored by DHS, and my panel (OK, not surprisingly) was on cybersecurity. It was a good conference overall, and I think the panel went well. My “ah-ha!” moment, however, was listening to two Baltimore cops who proceeded me on the panel.

One was the head of Baltimore’s cyber crime team. He described his main job as being a “trusting 13-year-old girl on the Net.” He catches internet predators who try to lure kids into very dangerous situations.

His collogue was a lifetime police officer who has a master’s in computer science and a law degree as well. He is the guy you see on TV taking apart the bad guy’s cell phone and computer to trace his calls, e-mails and Web usage so they can prove his visits to “how to poison your wife” websites are relevant to his spouse’s untimely demise.

These guys are heroes.

In the discussion, I made a point. Local law enforcement has a role to play in cybersecurity. As cyber crime grows in magnitude, local cops will become increasingly critical to the fight. The problem is that they are chronically under funded and under manned. Baltimore is incredibly fortunate to have a 60 year old who was “freaking and hacking” (his words, not mine) before we even had the terms. He does some investigations into white collar-like cyber crime, but more often, he is called upon to help with murders and other “regular” crimes. The couple of investigations that they have done that Beltway types would see as real cyber issues were very time consuming and took him away from his traditional duties. We cannot afford to have to choose.

In the midst of the chronic shortages of cyber warriors in all of the critical federal departments, the military, and in key infrastructure sectors, we cannot forget local law enforcement. The FBI and the Secret Service (our frontline federal cyber cops) will, in most cases, not have the numbers or the jurisdiction to play on the local levels. These guys need to be funded and trained, or a major hole in our cyber defenses will persist.

I have mentioned before that for local law enforcement types, cyber attack is a big concern. They worry about their 911 systems being hacked or their dispatch systems being cyber-high jacked. This could lead to a breakdown of citizen confidence or even ambushes of responders.

Washington always gives lip service to the key role of our local counterparts. Well, in cyber, it is time we start backing that up with some action and some funds. Our cops need help so they can continue to help us.

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More