On July 5, 2005, two undercover police officers
in Torrance, California, noticed a car nosing slowly past
a Chevron station. Two men wearing ski masks jumped from
the car, one brandished a shotgun, and they stole $252 from
the night clerk. Police arrested the two men without incident,
but a search of their shared apartment yielded jihadist
literature and plans to bomb synagogues in Los Angeles.
The Torrance case is only one among dozens of
planned terrorist attacks that have been thwarted by local
police. But because the homeland-security debate has, so
far, focused on federal capacities, our national counterterrorist
strategy has failed to incorporate hundreds of thousands
of capable cops. Local law enforcement officers are primarily
viewed as "first responders" to incidents rather than as
potential "first preventers" of terrorism. As a result,
the United States remains far more vulnerable than it should
In fact, the same tactics that have improved
criminal policing over the last two decades can also improve
counterterrorist operations. Those tactics, first proposed
by one of the authors of this paper (Kelling) in The
Atlantic Monthly in March 1982, were put into practice
by the other (Bratton) in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles.
Our shared knowledge of both the theory and practice of
policing has convinced us that local law enforcement is
a vital yet underutilized resource in the war on terror.
Local police can be leveraged in this war in
three key ways. First, we can train police in the problemsolving
techniques that will make them effective first preventers
of terrorism. Second, we can use computer statistics (Compstat)
and technology to enhance data sharing and to catalyze intelligenceled
counterterrorist policing. Finally, and most vitally, the
theory of order maintenance commonly called "broken windows,"
which police in New York City have used so successfully
in the war on crime, can be adapted for the war on terror.
Doing so will dramatically bolster our ability to disrupt
terrorists before they strike.
FROM FIRST RESPONDERS TO FIRST PREVENTERS
The counterterrorist potential of local police
is partly a function of numbers. More than 700,000 local
law enforcement officers work in the continental U.S, compared
with just 12,000 FBI agents. Based on numbers alone, local
law enforcement personnel are much more likely than feds
to cross paths with terrorists.
It is the local police, too, who are most often
obliged to probe citizen tips. A major terrorist attack
in London was disrupted last year in just that way. When
a grandmother smelled something strange wafting from an
adjacent flat, she notified police. She told them she'd
noticed a group of young men frequenting the flat, which,
she said, contained no furniture. Inside, police discovered
a makeshift ricingas factory. The "young men"
actually constituted a terror cell preparing a poison-gas
attack, which could have killed thousands.
Local police officers have an everyday presence
in the communities that they are sworn to protect. They
"walk the beat," communicate regularly with local
residents and business owners, and are more likely to notice
even subtle changes in the neighborhoods that they patrol.
They are in a better position to know responsible leaders
in the Islamic and Arabic communities and can reach out
to them for information or for help in developing informants.
In the summer of 2004, for instance, the NYPD
was able to disrupt a planned bombing of the Herald Square
subway station just days before the Republican national
convention, based on information received from the local
community. Months earlier, the NYPD received a number of
calls on its terror-information hotline regarding an employee
of an Islamic bookstore next to one of the city's largest
mosques, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The
young man had concerned local residents with his anti-American
rhetoric, which included threats of violence.
The NYPD intelligence division sent a confidential
informant, a young Egyptian, to gather more information.
It took several months of slowly building a trusting relationship,
until one day the suspect shared a bomb-making manual with
the informant, telling him, "I want at least 1,000
to 2,000 to die in one day." After the informant accompanied
the suspect and another young man on a reconnaissance mission
of the subway station,
police moved in and made arrests.
The presence of police in our communities sensitizes
them to anomalies and yields counterterrorist data valuable
to other agencies. "Only an effective local police
establishment that has the confidence of citizens,"
former CIA director James Woolsey testified to Congress
in 2004, "is going to be likely to hear from, say,
a local merchant in a part of town containing a number of
new immigrants that a group of young men from abroad have
recently moved into a nearby apartment and are acting suspiciously.
police are best equipped to understand how to protect citizens'
liberties and obtain such leads legally." Distilling
this view of the local police role in counterterrorism,
Manhattan Institute senior fellow R. P. Eddy has christened
them our "first preventers."
But to fully realize the potential of local
police in counterterrorism, we first need a philosophical
shift, as occurred in criminal policing during the 1990s.
Instead of merely reacting to individual "incidents,"
police must proactively solve general problems. Just as
Bratton's NYPD used problem solving to craft customized
responses to vandalism and disorder, so police today must
use these same techniques to craft customized responses
to terrorism.To attack terrorism proactively, police need
special training. Many departments are already providing
it. The government of Israel has welcomed police from all
over the U.S. for training and exchange visits. LAPD's terrorist
countersurveillance training has been carefully based on
instruction that al-Qaeda target teams received at camps
This training is already paying off. In the
Torrance case, the officers who executed the search had
been trained by the Los Angeles area's joint counterterrorism
program to look for possible links to terrorism, and they
quickly found them. The NYPD's proactive Operation Nexus
uncovered an al-Qaeda plan to smuggle weapons into the city
through a garment-district shipping business. Counterterrorist
training led police in Rhode Island
to net jihadists in a routine traffic stop.
At the very least, officers who are taught to
identify the support structures of potential terrorists
are more able to create an environment in which terrorists
will not feel comfortable. It's also one among the many
ways in which police around the nation can use, against
terrorism, the same broken-windows theory that police in
New York City have used against crime.
CREATING A HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT FOR TERRORISTS
The broken-windows theory, formulated by Kelling
and James Q. Wilson, was premised on a simple concept: focusing
on minor offenses and community disorder could substantially
reduce crime by creating an environment in which criminals
did not feel at home.
Kelling worked with then-transit police chief
Bratton to implement the broken-windows theory in the New
York City subways. When transit cops arrested fare evaders,
they learned that one out of seven was either carrying a
weapon or had an outstanding warrant. Police then asked
the next questions: Where did you get the gun? What do you
know about other crimes not related to guns? When Bratton
became NYPD chief, he made the broken-windows theory part
of standard NYPD practice, and crime in New York City began
its historic dive. New York City is now the safest large
city in America, a place where criminals no longer feel
Application of broken-windows theory in counterterrorist
policing has two components: the first is creating a hostile
environment for terrorists; the second is recognizing that
terrorism's equivalents to subway fare beating are illegal
border crossings, forged documents, and other relatively
minor precursor crimes that terrorists often commit to fund
the operations to prepare their attacks.
The NYPD, under the leadership of Ray Kelly,
has created perhaps the least friendly environment for terrorists
in the country. Operation Atlas increases police presence
at major NYC entry points and landmarks. Hercules unitsheavily
armed officers in unannounced locationscreate a sense
of omnipresence by conducting drills and staging scenes
that leave a dramatic impression. These techniques prevented
a plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge: al-Qaeda operative
Lyman Faris, sent to survey the bridge, was recorded as
saying that "the weather was too hot" to complete
Police can also create a terrorist-unfriendly
environment using cameras, random screenings, and sophisticated
sensors. London offers a useful model: more than 40,000
closed-circuit cameras were vital in identifying and apprehending
terrorists, as the 7/7 investigations showed. Atlanta has
placed cameras at critical sites and offers an example of
how police can partner financially with the private sector.
New York City's MTA is spending $250 million to install
cameras throughout its system. Thecity is currently considering
the construction of a similar "ring of steel"
around the financial district in lower Manhattan.
In Los Angeles, we don't have the same resources
or manpower as the NYPD, so we've had to be somewhat creative
and develop consortia with other departments and use technology
to create a layered security approach.
One exemplary program is LAPD's Operation Archangel,
which works proactively with private and public partners
to assess the vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure.
Owners and operators of commercial buildings are asked to
contribute detailed, up-todate infrastructure information
to Archangelfloor plans, HVAC systems, entrances and
exits, and so on. This information is then entered into
a databasemanagement system that assesses threats and devises
deterrence and prevention strategies, as well as
emergency response plans.
We've worked with Los Angeles business owners
who sell products or services that could possibly be used
by terroriststruck-rental facilities, for exampleto
make sure that they are aware of the threat. We've also
reached out to doormen, private security guards, and transit
workers. We've even enlisted the help of the general public
through public awareness campaigns that encourage everyone
to remain vigilant, to report any suspicious activity to
police, and to "ask the next question."
Asking the next question is really a metaphor
for a police orientation that is alert to preventive and
investigatory possibilities. Criminals commit many crimes;
as it turns out, so do terrorists.
While it is possible that all the activities
leading up to a terrorist act could be conducted perfectly
legally, the combination of specific activities (e.g., large
number of males using a rented apartment irregularly) can
present, if not a recognizable pattern, at least an anomalous
or a suspicious one. In the recent London bombings, for
example, large amounts of hydrogen peroxide were purchased
for the purpose of bomb making. Similarly, a terrorist may
get tripped up by a law enforcement or private security
encounter that has nothing to do with his terrorist activities
or intent, just as Timothy McVeigh was stopped for speeding
after the Oklahoma bombing.
Many terrorists, especially foreigners who are
in the U.S. illegally, have to live a fugitive lifestylethat
is, they have to commit crimes not just to carry out an
attack but simply to sustain themselves. They maintain themselves
with illegal documents, committing burglary and robbery,
dealing drugs, committing fraud, and so on. In other words,
not all illegal immigrants or fugitives are terrorists,
but many terrorists have to live underground like illegal
immigrants or fugitives to get by in the U.S.
Ahmed Ressam, who planned to bomb Los Angeles
International Airport on New Year's 2000, is a case in point.
While living in Canada, he committed precursor crimes ranging
from weapons smuggling and robbing tourists to forging birth
certificates and immigration documents. An alert U.S. border
guard averted Ressam's attack only by asking him a number
of questions about his travel plans in the United States,
and then deciding to search Ressam's car after he exhibited
signs of nervousness.
When it comes to recognizing suspicious behavior,
U.S. law enforcement can learn much from the Israeli police.
When the Israelis come into contact with criminal suspects,
they ask such questions as: Why are you in Israel? How long
have you been here? Where are you staying?and then
watch for behavioral responses.
The use of information elicited by Israeli policing
offers another principle for emulation. Prosecution of the
case is less important than gatheringintelligence and putting
it into a database. No incident should be considered too
minor for interaction with potential terrorists and for
the collection of intelligence. When, for instance, they
raid a bordello, where the patrons are primarily Arabs from
different parts of the region, Israeli police are less concerned
about the criminal activity than with preparing intelligence
reports on who these people are.
The problem for American policing is not so
much getting the intelligence but making sense of it and
sharing it with those who can use it. Although the need
to share data is not new, exchanging information across
jurisdictions and levels of government is more critical
in the current threat environment than it ever was in the
war on crime. Because state and local law enforcement is
decentralized, it must overcome its traditional reluctance
to share information. The Compstat intelligence sharing
and accountability systemcreated when Bratton took
over as NYPD commissioner in 1994is an information-sharing
model that local police can look to as an example.
Intelligence-led policing is crime fighting
that is guided by effective intelligence gathering and analysisand
it has the potential to be the most important law enforcement
innovation of the twenty-first century. Instead of relying
solely on the federal government for intelligence, many
state and local departments have now taken it upon themselves
to create their own systems. Among other things, they are
assembling databases, sharing information, and setting up
their own DNA labs.The NYPD's intelligence operation is
widely regarded as the gold standard. The Department hired
a cadre of intelligence and counterterrorism experts, has
officers fluent in such languages as Arabic, Farsi, and
Pashto, monitors foreign news services and intelligence
reports, and has officers stationed overseas. The NYPD dwarfs
the size of most other police departments in manpower and
resources. The next five largest U.S. police departments
combined do not have as many employees as the NYPD. As a
result, other departments that don't have the resources
of the NYPD are trying to find ways to work together to
gather better intelligence more quickly and at much less
expense than if they were all working on their own.
Intelligence-led policing is a very important
and welcome advance in both the war against crime and the
war on terrorism. We also need to be mindful of the mess
that local police departments got themselves into in the
1960s by illegally spying on antiwar and civil rights groups.
Uniform training procedures and standards on how intelligence
is gathered, stored, and accessed need to be developed and
disseminated to local law enforcement in order to safeguard
citizens' privacy and civil rights.
America's radically decentralized policethere
are more than 17,000 separate police departments in the
United Statesis both a strength and a weakness. It
is a great strength because the police are better attuned
to their local communities and are directly accountable
to their concerns. But it is also a terrible weakness in
the post-September 11 world, where information sharing is
key. Once law enforcement has the information, it needs
to make sense of it and share it immediately. It is critical
thatboth horizontally and verticallylaw enforcement
overcomes its traditional reluctance to share information
in a meaningful and timely fashion.
In some ways, the current lack of communication
among different levels of law enforcement is similar to
the situation that Bratton encountered when he first took
over as NYPD commissioner in 1994. Back then, the NYPD had
the problem of local precinct commanders jealously guarding
crime and arrest information from one another. We created
the now-famous Compstat program, which trackedcrime statistics
in a timely manner and also brought precinct commanders
and the department's top brass together in one room twice
a week to share information.
The secret to Compstat's success was that it
brought about a cultural change within the NYPD. At one
early meeting, a precinct commander was reluctant to share
information with his colleagues until Jack Maple, who was
a deputy commissioner and the architect of Compstat, challenged
him by asking: "Whom in this room don't you trust?"
Soon precinct commandeers began to see one another not as
rivals but as allies. Everyone in the department began to
operate from the same playbook and realized that we were
all on the same team working toward the same goal: keeping
New York's citizens safe.
We need to find ways to achieve this unity on
a national level. State and regional fusion centers are
a major step in the right direction. Fusion centers are
regional intelligence centers that pool information from
multiple jurisdictions, and they are becoming increasingly
important. In a recent speech, President Bush noted the
importance of linking terrorist information across jurisdictions
and called state and local police "the front line of
defeating terror." Fusion centers now exist in nearly
every state and will be crucial in the years ahead in improving
our nation's intelligence-sharing capabilities.
Less formal associations are also developing.
One such consortium has been assembled by the nonprofit
Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and now includes
most of the police departments of the nation's 20 largest
cities. Another example is
the I-95 Domestic Security Preparedness groupcomprising
law enforcement officials from the I-95 corridorwhich
was created through a partnership of the Police Institute
at Rutgers University, the Manhattan Institute, and the
Department of Homeland Security. Both these groups work
to bring counterterrorism experts together, create exchanges
with overseas police agencies, and generally share best
practices and provide opportunities for networking and discussion
among various local law enforcement agencies.
While fusion centers and consortia help share
information horizontally among departments, we also need
to do a better job of sharing information vertically between
the "feds" and the "state and the locals."
As we mentioned, local police have greatly improved their
professionalism over the past two decades and have earned
the right to be trusted by the feds. Information is the
best weapon we have against terrorism, but it must be made
available to those who can best use it. In many cases, they
will be local law enforcement. While great precautions need
to be taken to protect sources and prevent leaks, those
risks need to be balanced with the far greater possibility
that important information won't get into the hands of those
who can use it to prevent an attack.
Since 9/11, information sharing between the
federal government and state and locals has improved. Most
of the improvement has come through the FBI's Joint Terrorism
Task Force (JTTF), which has tripled in number from 34 before
September 11 to 100 today. In Los Angeles and other large
departments across the country, there are active levels
communication and cooperation with the Department of Homeland
Security and the FBI.
Despite this progress, the level of cooperation
seems to vary greatly, depending on the personalities of
individual bureau and police chiefs. Too often, the FBI
cuts itself off from local police manpower, expertise, and
intelligence. More than 6,000 state and local police now
have federal security clearances, but the historical lack
of trust is still an issue. For example, many police chiefs
complain of calls they get from their JTTF alerting them
to a potential threat, but when they ask for the detailedinformation
needed to launch an investigation, they are told by the
bureau: "We can't tell you" or "You
don't need to know."
Smaller departments are also overlooked. "I
think the FBI is truly trying to make intel available,"
says Lowell, Massachusetts, chief Ed Davis. "However,
we have found that in a city like Lowell, with a police
department of 350 officers, we're pretty far down the rung
when it comes to discussion of terrorist threats. The information
is so heavily vetted that it becomes of little value. It
is about what you get in a press release."
Americans accustomed to television shows such
as 24 and CSI think that law enforcement has all sorts of
intelligence information at its fingertips. This could not
be further from the truth. The unfortunate reality is that
law enforcementfederal, state, and
localis very far behind the private sector in terms
of the ability to use technology to gather, analyze, and
The federal government simply has to do a better
job of collecting, analyzing, and sharing intelligence.
The government's failure at "connecting the dots,"
as the 9/11 commission put it, was key to al-Qaeda's fateful
hijackings in 2001. Five years later, it is not clear that
much has changed. This May, FBI director Robert Mueller
testified before Congress that the FBI still has not assembled
an accurate terrorist watch list and that it will be "some
time" before it does.
When you rent a car today at many airports,
an attendant will come out with a handheld device that enables
him to gather all the information he needs on you and the
car, send it wirelessly to a main database, and bill your
credit card, all within a matter of few seconds. Just imagine
what might have happened if the Maryland state trooper who
had stopped 9/11 hijacker Ziad S. Jarrah for speeding on
September 9, 2001, had had access to that type of technology
and had discovered that Jarrah was on the CIA's terrorist
The FBI does now have an operational Terrorist
Screening Center, which is designed to allow state and local
law enforcement to determine whether a person is on the
federal government's terror watch list. But there are many
kinks to work out. According to the way the system works
now, if a local officer interdicts someone who is of interest
to the federal government, a "ping" is set off
in the FBI's system that this person has been stopped, but
usually the local police will not themselves be notified.
Finally, we must not forget that information
must flow both ways. It is just as important that local
police are sharing information with the fedsa point
that is often overlooked by those involved in the FBI's
JTTF. This observation is supported by former CIA director.
R. James Woolsey, who noted in testimony to Congress that
"the flow of information sharing is likely to be more
from localities to Washington, rather than the other way
The federal governmentthe FBI, CIA, Homeland
Security, the new director of National Intelligencehas
a critical role to play in gathering intelligence, launching
investigations, and prosecuting suspected terrorists. But
there is also an important role for local law enforcement.
As the terrorist threat moves from large international
terror groups to more loosely affiliated "lone wolves"
or "homegrown" terroristssuch as the young
men who perpetrated the London bombings last summerthe
need to involve local police is becoming even more apparent.
As Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior advisor at the RAND Corporation
and a respected authority on terrorism, has said, "As
this thing metastasizes, cops are it. We are going to win
this at the local level.
"Federal agencies are not built to be the
eyes and ears of local communities, but local law enforcementwith
the right training and supportcan be. There is still
much work to be done to enlist state and locals in the war
We need to make sure that local police understand
the new role that they play in national security and how
they can use effective crime-prevention tactics, including
Compstat and broken-windows theory, in the war on terror.
We need to train local police to be aware of terrorist indicators
and precursor crimes so that they can be effective "first
preventers." We need to overcome the petty rivalries
and technological barriers that are hampering the collection
and sharing of important intelligence. Only then will we
be able to say that we have a real homeland-security partnership.
Above all, we must expand our national strategy
to give a larger role to local police. Local police departments
in the U.S. have not traditionally seen themselves as part
of the national security apparatus. This needs to change.
Homeland security is less dependent on appointing a national
intelligence czar than it is on empowering local police.
Massachusetts state police chief Ed Flynn calls this "hometown
Counterterrorism has to be woven into the everyday
workings of every department. It should be included on the
agenda of every meeting, and this new role must be imparted
to officers on the street so that terrorism prevention becomes
part of their everyday thinking. This is not as ominous,
or as difficult, as it sounds. As the Torrance case shows,
good police work is good counterterrorism.
America's genius has been and always will be
its empowerment of local institutions. Empowering local
commanders on the ground to make tactical decisions is how
wars are won. Empowering local police to act as the front
line for homeland security is how we can win the war on