Budgetary cuts to local police departments have some concerned that law enforcement is left empty-handed when terrorist attacks happen.
The cuts in law enforcement among local, state, and federal agencies became an issue four years ago when Congress was in the midst of the debt ceiling debate.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 eventually triggered a $1.2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling but also set off across-the-board cuts, also known as sequestration, beginning in January of 2013. The cuts would apply to mandatory and discretionary spending between 2013 and 2021.
Law enforcement agencies began to feel the heat. Police Chief Magazine wrote in 2013 that “federal funding for criminal justice assistance through the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has dropped by an enormous 43%.”
Fraternal Order of Police President Chuck Canterbury told The Daily Caller that there is little federal money going to local police for needed resources.
“Task forces are being cut. Generally, there is a little bit better information now than what there was prior to 2001, but with the cuts in budgetary funds and the attacks on civil forfeiture funds, there’s probably going to be a reduction in local police that serve on joint terrorism task forces and the like,” he said.
However, some are saying that information may begin to dry up as well. A recent ruling against the National Security Agency relating to its collection of phone records prompted Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr to tell Martha Raddatz on ABC “This Week” that the ruling “turns us back to pre-9/11.”
A New York federal court ruled late last week that the government’s interpretation of section 215 of the Patriot Act was not constitutional for the National Security Agency to engage in an overarching surveillance program that examines metadata of Americans’ phone calls.
Burr told TheDC on Monday, “I think most local law enforcement would tell you what 215 has allowed the intelligence agency to do is push out more information to keep their public safe in their communities.”
In 2010, budget cuts forced the Los Angeles Police Department to disband a counter-terrorism task force. According to The L.A. Times, the Protective Security Task Force team were a group of 12 plain clothes cops sent to infrastructures and events considered to be at risk of being attacked or high level security situations.
In January, the city of New York revealed the anti-terrorism unit known as the Strategic Response Group. The unit is comprised of 350 officers. This group was formed only after New York Mayor Bill de Blasio disbanded an NYPD unit that collected intel on potential terror suspects. The team was formed as a result of the 9/11 attacks. Police Commissioner Bratton asked for 400 more officers to specifically deal with the terrorist threat facing the city.
Just a few months ago Portland decided to bring back its Joint Terrorism Task Force after ten years. However, only two officers will comprise the team.
On the federal level, FBI director James Comey was welcomed to the job in 2013 when he was told by agents around the country, The Washington Post reported, that training halted for new recruits at Quantico and that the bureau had no plans to recruit new agents the following year.
California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein stressed to TheDC last week that it is the FBI who does the domestic monitoring of so-called “lone wolf” jihadists, not intel agencies. Many, she said, will be inspired to join terror organizations like ISIS through Twitter and may be overlooked.
“It’s not intel. It’s the FBI. That’s important. Intel doesn’t do [monitoring] in the country. It’s the FBI. What happens is a warrant is issued and the FBI then takes over the case,” Feinstein said.
One counter-terrorism expert notes, though, that in nearly every lone wolf attack, the attacker had ties to another jihadist and was already watched at some point by the U.S. government.
“And no one should be surprised when more of our ‘lone wolves’ turn out to be ‘known wolves’ to our law enforcement and intelligence agencies,” says counterterrorism expert Patrick Poole.
Feinstein agreed, telling TheDC there really isn’t a difference between the lone wolf terrorist and the known wolf terrorist. Unfortunately, the further lack of information and resources may leave local law enforcement in the dark with less protection.
“For the last six or eight years pro active law enforcement has come to a stop because of shortage of personnel and what Congress needs to remember first and foremost is the responsibility of government is the protection of their citizens,” Canterbury said. “800,000 local police officers versus a little over 100,000 federal officers who have a different task — if you look at the major terrorism events in the country it’s local law enforcement that have affected the arrests — Timothy McVeigh for example.”
He explained, “The problem is now that budgets have been slashed. The training budgets are being slashed. The most expensive part of a police department is their personnel. When budgets get tight, first thing that goes are new hires and filling positions that remain open. Police departments in this country have greatly reduced their numbers. New York City, for instance, in their heyday had 41,000 police officers. They now have around 34,000.”
Other attacks thwarted or the aftermath dealt with by local law enforcement include the Fort Hood military ambush, Fort Dix attack plot, the Times Square bomb plot, Boston Marathon bombing, and the recent Garland, Texas attack at a Mohammed art competition.