Policing Terrorism: Why Are the Principles of Federalism Absent From National Security Policy?
In recent months, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has come under attack for its counterterrorism intelligence activities, including its alleged efforts to “map” ethnic communities and its surveillance of religious groups. It is easy to view this controversy in familiar terms of security versus privacy or non-discrimination. Seen in those terms, the natural solutions seem to lie in tightening and enforcing substantive restrictions and guidelines that govern police intelligence activities and investigations.
The natural and important focus on substantive restrictions on police surveillance and intelligence collection, however, should not obscure the broader structural and institutional issues at stake here: What role should local police agencies play in terrorism prevention, and how should their cooperation be organized horizontally (among local police agencies) and vertically (between the federal and local governments)? How much discretion should state and local governments have in performing counterterrorism intelligence functions? And how can counterterrorism tasks be integrated with other police functions?
The NYPD is a special case. It has a large intelligence unit and about 1,000 officers dedicated full-time to counterterrorism—far more than any other municipal police department—and New York City faces unique threats. That said, involvement of local police in counterterrorism intelligence tasks is not a unique phenomenon. That involvement may even grow in the future, as threats and counterterrorism strategies evolve.
Police powers are constitutionally divided vertically in the United States, so some key counterterrorism competencies and resources reside at the state and local level. A major architectural challenge, therefore, is integrating counterterrorism intelligence with local policing. The solution will not be one-size-fits-all; instead, the U.S. domestic intelligence system should embrace local government variation, input, and oversight.