IACP Digest: Neighborhood watch for counterterrorism

“We’ve created a human solution to a technology problem,” said Brad Swim, Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI office in Denver. “We work together, shoulder to shoulder, we eat lunch together, and we work through problems together.”

Swim was talking about his work with the JTTF, one of the many agencies involved in the high-profile takedown of Najibullah Zazi. The Associated Press reported that the joint FBI-NYPD task force had put Zazi under surveillance because of the suspected links to al Qaida and his suspected involvement in a plot to build homemade explosives from hydrogen peroxide and other consumer goods.

We’ve covered the technology side of the collaboration equation several times on Police1. Happily, the theme that permeated the two-hour long session on Sunday morning was carbon-based (read: human), not silicon-based information sharing.

“What we’re really talking about here is a neighborhood watch program,” said Sgt. Matt Packard of the Colorado State Patrol, in his description of the Terrorism Liaison Officer program in the Rocky Mountain state.

The Fusion Center at which he’s been assigned for about two years, the CIAC — the Colorado Information Analysis Center — was formed shortly after 9/11, and has the mission to prevent terrorist attacks. According to its Web site, the CIAC is “designed to link all stakeholders in Colorado, from local and federal law enforcement officers, to bankers and school teachers. It emphasizes detection, prevention, and information-driven response to protect the citizens and critical infrastructure of Colorado.”

CIAC has participation from members of the private sector, public health departments, the federal government, and every sector of public safety. For example, CIAC has two utilities companies, three transportation agencies, six education institutions, 11 military organizations, and 72 law enforcement agencies represented in its ranks, as well as an array of private entities. “These are the type of people who can tell us if a whole bunch of chlorine suddenly goes missing,” Packard said.

“The TLO is the Fusion Center,” Packard said. “We’ve created a network of people who know each other, work together, trust each other, so when something comes up, we have people in place who can manage it and work it.”

The mission of the TLO is the exact opposite of the task force model. “The officers assigned to a task force are given a task to do. The TLOs are not ‘tasked’ — they task us with the things they’re working on,” Packard said.

Hearing Sgt. Packard talk, you got the impression that his Fusion Center is an excellent model for others around the country to look at for best practices. In fact, not too long ago Packard visited the Miami-Dade, Florida area to help them set up their TLO program.

“The worst thing is to be exchanging business cards at the site of an incident, and the greater the level of dialog with among local agencies, the better,” Swim said, and the JTTF is one of the conduits for that dialog. There were 35 JTTFs set up prior to 9/11 (the first was set up in New York City in 1980), and now there are 106 of them up and running.

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