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Police Need Counter Terrorism Training

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 changed our nation’s fabric—the way we think about our nation’s security and the steps we take to try to ensure it. Just a decade into the new century, it’s clear the role of local law enforcement has been forever altered and its significance magnified. The overall objective of local law enforcement is no longer simply to maintain law and order. Now “policing” includes important responsibilities in a whole new realm—identifying potential terrorist threats and activities.

One concerning trend of note is that terrorist organizations are increasingly decentralized. Instead of a sole focus on significant, high-impact attacks orchestrated by al-Qaeda leaders, for example, smaller, more numerous local attacks are being managed and executed by lower-level terrorist cells and other loosely linked or ideologically aligned lone wolf operatives. Counterterrorism experts in federal law enforcement anticipate a rise in autonomous small-scale attacks motivated by a variety of terrorist splinter groups.

That said, attacks plotted by individual persons without direct links to foreign terrorist groups are considerably harder to identify in advance. For this reason it is vital that local law enforcement understands the behaviors, actions and signals to look for to highlight and detect possible terrorist activity.

All terrorists, those in large groups and the individual lone actor, will engage in activities prior to an attack that will display certain characteristics. These include advance surveillance of the operational target, procurement of needed materials (e.g. communications equipment, weaponry, chemicals, vehicles,) and the execution of practice runs of the attack. Local law enforcement must be constantly vigilant for signs of irregularities that may indicate terrorist activities in the planning.

In addition to this heightened awareness and knowledge of what to look for, collaboration on all fronts—within law enforcement, with the greater Intelligence Community, and between law enforcement and the public—is the key to ensuring puzzle pieces add up to a useful picture. Clearly this huge, significant and complex job cannot be undertaken successfully in a vacuum. It’s important to share resources, knowledge, information and plans.

Collaboration within Law Enforcement

The Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) is an intelligence-gathering partnership between local and federal law enforcement. The first JTTF was established in 1980 in New York City with 10 FBI special agents and 10 detectives from the New York City Police Department. The JTTF is based in Washington, DC and includes representatives from 35 federal agencies that partner with local and state law enforcement to take action against terrorism. Today, more than 100 regional JTTFs are charged with taking action against terrorism.

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said the key is a combination of education and collaboration. “We work to ensure our Terrorism Liaison Officers have the proper training and education, ranging from Basic SWAT training, to first response, working with bomb detection canines, sniper courses, emergency vehicle training, incident and command training,” she stated. “The focus of strategic security education is on knowing how to identify and prevent attacks. That’s needed as much as, or even more than, understanding how best to respond.”

Collaboration with Intelligence Community

The scope of local law enforcement’s day-to-day role has been greatly expanded. Local police must work closely with federal agencies, and understand their increasingly critical role in the surveillance of suspected terrorists. Police, sheriffs and agencies of all types need to increase their efforts and work alongside the Intelligence Communities (IC) to fight terrorism in American communities.

“Establishing formal and informal contacts and networks makes it possible “to connect the dots” (as highlighted by The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States report, also known as the 9-11 Commission Report). Local, state and federal jurisdictional partners have established relationships to facilitate exchanging and analyzing intelligence information to just that, and it’s vital to preventing terrorist attacks,” commented Marc Glasser, MS, CPP, a former U.S. Department of State Special Agent and homeland security professional who now teaches courses at Henley-Putnam University.

Glasser added: “Formal and informal counterterrorism stakeholders include civilians and private sector partners who are highly encouraged to report any suspicious information to law enforcement or appropriate homeland security professionals. This “all-source” collaborative effort has prevented terrorist attacks, empowered community stakeholders, and is very cost-effective in these fiscally challenging times.”

While the propaganda in circulation may be identified by the IC and indicate a terrorist operation in the planning stages, local law enforcement, with its expert knowledge of specific communities, is often far better positioned than federal or state level personnel to identify these operatives.

Collaboration between Law Enforcement and Public

The public expects and demands law enforcement step up to the responsibility for identifying and thwarting terrorist attacks. In San Francisco, Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART) passengers routinely ask for greater police presence on the trains. A new team of transit police officers, The Critical Asset Patrol Team, deployed earlier this year, and it has recently begun policing the trains, walking through the cars to identify and thwart potential terrorist attacks.

The public has come to recognize, though, the vital role it must play. This has been clearly demonstrated recently. In the case of the attempted Christmas Day (2009) attack onboard NW Flight #253, it was a group of private citizens on the plane who stopped the bomber.

The May 1, 2010 car bomb in New York’s Times Square attack was prevented by a local T-shirt vendor who thought the car was suspicious and reported it to the police.

In both cases, we have a vigilant public to thank for the identification of the threat and deterrence of the attack. Everyone has a role to play in fighting terrorism, and the public is being encouraged to remain vigilant and to play a role in surveillance in their own communities.

Educational & Training Resources

CIPAC, the Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council, a division of the Department of Homeland Security responsible for implementing the National Infrastructure Protection Plan, trains workers and officials in key sectors about potential threats, including terrorist attacks. The Department of Homeland Security explains CIPAC in more detail on its website.

Alternatively, anyone can pursue coursework in counterterrorism. One of the leading institutions in strategic security, Henley-Putnam University offers a range of certificates and degrees in counterterrorism and related subjects such as intelligence. Available certificates include Counterterrorism, Intelligence and Terrorism Profiling, Intelligence Analysis, Strategic Intelligence, Intelligence Collection, Security Management and Executive Protection.

Full degree programs are also available in Terrorism & Counterterrorism, Intelligence Management and Strategic Security & Protection Management. For the convenience of working professionals, Henley-Putnam University courses are offered online.

The roles, responsibilities and interdependencies of local law enforcement, federal law enforcement, government agencies and the Intel Community all work together to share information in a timely way. The task is immensely complex, and the best chance of doing this effectively depends on each organization and each individual to do their jobs flawlessly.

To that end, law enforcement personnel must have at least a basic understanding of these areas. The need for local law enforcement to acquire comprehensive knowledge of terrorism and counterterrorism cannot be overstated. Training may be offered through employers or pursued individually.

Theresa Marcroft, MIM, CMO, writes for Henley-Putnam University. Henley-Putnam serves professionals in the strategic security industry, especially within the law enforcement, military and the intelligence community, by increasing their opportunities for advancement in the fields of intelligence management, counterterrorism studies, and strategic sec security & protection management. She can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Sep 2011

Rating : 8.0

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