Since 9/11, authorities have urged local police to become the front line in domestic counter-terrorism, gathering street-level intelligence about suspicious activities that could foretell another attack. It has not worked out that way, says the Los Angeles Times. The nation’s 17,000 local law enforcement agencies have gathered information in their own haphazard ways or not at all. Most police officers are trained to gather evidence to prove crimes, not to cultivate and analyze intelligence to prevent terrorists from striking. A Los Angeles police official has devised a solution that is considered so cheap, so easy to implement, and so innovative that federal authorities may make it a model for all police departments.
Cmdr. Joan McNamara, who heads the Los Angeles police Counter-Terrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau, revised the investigative report that officers must fill out for crimes, real or suspected, adding a section where they can describe any kind of potential terrorist-related activity. Officers are required to fill out the forms if they observe suspicious activity, whether or not a crime was committed. Until now, no one thought to codify the suspicious activities usually associated with terrorism to look for patterns and trends, McNamara said. L.A. officers have been receiving training in what kinds of suspicious activities to look for, based on a 65-item checklist that includes indications that someone conducted surveillance on a government building, tried to acquire explosives, openly espoused extremist views, or abandoned a suspicious package. This month, the U.S. Directorate of National Intelligence sent teams of experts to Boston and Chicago to see if the program can be implemented in those cities as a precursor to a much larger rollout. Another team will soon visit Miami.