Will Trump Save Police Anti-Terror Training?

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Photo by Michael Vadon via Flickr

Obamacare is this year’s most prominent example of a federal program that virtually refuses to die.

While members of Congress spar over how much of the big health care law they can kill, on a much smaller scale, the U.S. Justice Department has its own case of a federally funded effort that won’t go away, at least so far this year, no matter how hard lawmakers try.

It’s called the State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training Program, or SLATT, and is s “dedicated to providing critical training and resources to our nation’s law enforcement, who face the challenges presented by the terrorist/violent criminal extremist threat.”

Back in 2015, The Crime Report wrote that the legislators who control the DOJ budget had voted to eliminate the training. At the time, a spokesperson for then-Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), the top Democrat on the committee that handles DOJ appropriations, said “tough decisions had to be made among many deserving programs.”  (Fattah himself didn’t do very well, either. He was sentenced last year to a 10-year prison term on corruption charges.)

SLATT didn’t make the cut, both in 2015 and in the two years that followed, despite support from the Obama administration.

So it’s something of a surprise to find that not only is the SLATT website still alive, registration is ongoing for law enforcers to sign up for instruction in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Oregon and Washington and “registration [is] opening soon” for Georgia, Maine, Mississippi and New York.

How did that happen?

The program is so popular with law enforcement organizations that the Justice Department defied Congress, finding money internally to keep SLATT going.

Part of the explanation is the amount of money involved: by the time it died on paper at the U.S. Capitol, SLATT was getting only about $1 million a year. Within the Washington, D.C. Beltway, that is such a small amount buried in the DOJ budget of about $31 billion) that officials were able to come up with enough funds to keep SLATT going–at least for a while.

It turns out that the annual appropriations law for DOJ allows officials to spend up to three percent of money Congress provides the department for anticrime grants for “training and technical assistance.” For the current year, $480,000 was found in that pot to pay for SLATT.

Asked about the anti-terrorism training several weeks ago, a career DOJ employee said the funds were expected to run out by September 30, the end of the current federal spending year, and SLATT would come to a quiet end.

Since SLATT began back in 1996, it has spent more than $45 million training more than 146,700 law enforcement professionals. Beyond that, a “Train-the-Trainer Workshop” has trained about 3,500 law enforcement trainers, who in turn have provided instruction to about 270,000 more law enforcement officers. Congress provided $2 million for SLATT both in fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

The job of running SLATT has been contracted to the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IRR), a Tallahassee, Florida-based firm that is headed by Rick Gregory, a former police chief in Provo, Utah and New Castle, Delaware.

Gregory says local police officers typically are offered a two-and-one-half day training session covering such topics as terrorism ideologies, domestic terrorists including “sovereign citizens” and anarchists, and international terrorism, and intelligence and information sharing among law enforcement agencies.

Police groups are enthusiastic about SLATT. The International Association of Chiefs of Police says that although large police departments have the capacity to train their own officers about terrorism, there are about 18,000 law enforcement agencies around the U.S. Most of them have only 25 or 30 employees, who without SLATT probably would not be exposed to terrorism issues.

James W. Baker, director of advocacy for the IACP and former director of the Vermont State Police, says that all police departments should be briefed on the latest information on spotting and dealing with terrorists because “it could happen anywhere.”

After the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, nearly 80 “fusion centers” were created around the U.S., where law enforcement officials from different geographical areas in a region gather to analyze information on terrorist threats.

Mike Sena, a California Department of Justice official, heads the National Fusion Center Association, which represents the centers nationwide. Sena told The Crime Report that “it’s a shame” and “disturbing” that funds may run out for the police training. “We’re not asking for a whole lot,” he said, alluding to the relatively small cost of the program.

Now the question is whether the administration of President Trump, who has made both fighting terrorism and supporting local police a high priority, will keep SLATT going despite an apparent lack of interest in Congress.

The White House sought no funds for SLATT in the appropriations bill now being considered in Congress.

A Justice Department spokesperson would not offer an explanation for the administration’s lack of public support given its stances on terrorism and policing. Still, the official wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions will come to SLATT’s rescue in the next two months and in the process please the administration’s backers on U.S. police forces.

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.

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