By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
There are more than 900,000 law enforcement officers in the United States who are sworn to protect and serve. The majority of these officers serve at the local, county or state level. Because of their daily responsibilities, they have significant public interactions that involve traffic stops, field investigations and non-emergency calls.
These public interactions provide an important opportunity for officers to recognize signs of domestic terrorism that threaten the community. However, in order for officers to be able to recognize and address potential terrorist activity, they must have proper training, as well as knowledge of available resources and proper protocols to follow.
The Role of the Office for State and Local Law Enforcement
To aid in local law enforcement’s ability to respond to domestic terrorism, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has created the Office for State and Local Law Enforcement. This office serves as the primary liaison for local agencies and coordinates communication between DHS and agencies about current public safety issues and concerns and also provides recommendations.
To improve interagency intelligence-sharing, the Office for State and Local Law Enforcement supports the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), a secure web-based portal. Federal, state and local agencies can share information across multiple law enforcement networks, improving communication. To be fully effective, however, local and state law enforcement must know what to look for in the field in order to report it to HSIN.
Supporting Law Enforcement’s Anti-Terrorism Role
In addition to the Office for State and Local Law Enforcement, there are other national programs that aim to help bolster the role of local law enforcement in protecting national security. For example, the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative, the Countering Violent Extremism initiative, and the Blue Campaign all provide awareness on current homeland security threats including issues like human trafficking. These programs all aim to increase local and state law enforcement’s awareness of these issues and outline the role they play in identifying and stopping these threats.
For example, local law enforcement agencies can use the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative as a standardized method to relay suspicious domestic terrorism activity at the local level. In turn, the initiative promotes intelligence-sharing among critical homeland security stakeholders, which can lead to connecting suspicious local incidents to a potential large-scale domestic threat. However, local law enforcement personnel must be made more aware of this program to strengthen its capability and effectiveness.
Scenario-based training is also important to prepare law enforcement agencies for domestic terrorism responses. This training should involve working with community partners that could be potential targets such as hospitals, mass transit systems and critical community infrastructures.
In addition, it’s essential to provide officers with adequate first responder equipment. Such equipment should include protective gear so officers can safely enter contaminated areas after an act of terrorism. It is equally important for these officers to be armed with the appropriate weaponry to confront active shooters and reduce the risk to innocent bystanders.
State and Local Law Enforcement Constantly Evolving to Meet New Threats
The role of local and state law enforcement continues to evolve to meet current and future threats to the community. Since there are substantially more law enforcement officers at the state and local levels than at the federal and DHS levels, it is crucial to employ these officers as a resource to combat terrorism.
The ability to identify suspicious incidents that might be associated with domestic terrorism, coupled with intelligence-sharing capabilities through programs such as the HSIN, will allow local law enforcement agencies to take on a substantially greater role in intervening in domestic terrorism before an incident.
About the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been with the Coast Guard since 1997. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security, contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has also received commendations from the Coast Guard. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions.