By Dr. Joseph R. Clark

The Homeland Security Policy Institute just published a piece Andy Mills and I wrote on the important role local law enforcement plays in counterterrorism intelligence. Our work examines the learning processes by which Andy led his criminal intelligence unit (part of the San Diego Police Department) from a role as a simple consumer of the intelligence community’s products — to an innovative role as an active participant in the collection of raw intelligence and the analysis of its importance to the threat domain faced by San Diego. We argue that the example set by SDPD is an important one. We contend that the lessons learned by the SDPD will be of limited value to the U.S.’ national counterterrorism efforts unless local law enforcement agencies across the country adopt similar innovations.

Running a Three-Legged Race

Despite a decade of political rhetoric, blue ribbon commissions, and grant-making on the part of Congress and the presidency, local police departments remain all but absent from the counterterrorism efforts of America’s intelligence community. Although there are understandable reasons for this absence — a misunderstanding of the threat domain, concerns over potential constitutional or statutory prohibitions, a tendency to focus on (perhaps exclusively) more conventional crimes — this deficiency in the United States’ approach to counterterrorism intelligence must now be resolved.

What follows is an account of why local police departments ought to evolve to become active participants in the national intelligence enterprise against jihadi terrorism. It is also a first-hand description of how local law enforcement agencies can adapt and innovate in the face of a shifting threat domain while continuing to meet the primary responsibility each has for protecting the communities it serves. Beginning in 2009, the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) undertook a bold attempt to evaluate and then adjust the processes by which SDPD conceptualized, collected, analyzed, and acted upon counterterrorism-relevant information. The lessons learned have value not just for the counterterrorism efforts and efficacy of US municipalities, but for American counterterrorism efforts writ large. Read more.

Dr. Joseph R. Clark is a policy analyst at The George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI). He is research director for HSPI’s Counterterrorism and Intelligence Task Force and leads HSPI’s Counterterrorism Intelligence Survey Research (CTISR) project.