Increasingly, the job of detecting would-be terrorists and their support networks in the U.S. is falling to the 800,000 state and local police officers, says the Wall Street Journal. They far outnumber federal agents, and their eyes and ears are attuned to know more about what’s suspicious in their own communities. Los Angeles has one of the most active counterterrorist police departments, often reacting to overseas attacks with its own contingency planning. Police departments in smaller cities like Charlotte, N.C., and Providence, R.I., are also following suit. Over the past few years, state and local police have been taking millions of dollars from state and federal funds to open “fusion centers”–high-tech offices where local cops and officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security share and analyze information about crimes and terrorist groups. There are about 40 such centers around the U.S., with many more under development.
The Los Angeles police low-key strategy is to use local laws –from parking ordinances to antifraud statutes — to crack down on suspected terrorists. It’s akin to the tactic the federal government used in the 1930s when going after gangster Al Capone: He was indicted for tax evasion instead of murder. Since 9/11, Los Angeles has arrested nearly 200 people, both American citizens and foreign nationals, with suspected ties to terrorist organizations. Some civil-rights groups and Muslim organizations are concerned about giving too much counterterrorism responsibility to local police. L.A. officials say they are mindful of the concerns of ethnic groups and sensitive about collecting intelligence about people who might not be directly related to a crime under investigation.