The Integration of Counter-terrorism into the DNA of American Policing

– Executive Summary –

In the 13 years since September 11, 2001 (9/11), it is unknown to what extent counterterrorism (CT) has been fully embraced by local law enforcement (LE). This question is not easy to answer, as it is not easily quantifiable; this level of LE is comprised of nearly 18,000 individual agencies, and the CT mission manifests itself differently from agency to agency.

According to Jack K. Riley et al., in Think Locally: Act Nationally, “Virtually everyone agrees that the U.S. war on terrorism should involve local and state agencies. Nonetheless, to date, such efforts have been spotty, incomplete, and devoid of a coordinated national strategy.” [1]  Key to the effort of thwarting terror plots is the more than 17,000 state and local LE agencies that collectively represent terrorism’s “first-line preventers.” Despite the vast size of this network, and the growing recognition of their importance in the CT process, state and local resources are still commonly underutilized.

This thesis seeks to determine how local LE can integrate CT into its traditional mission. The core of this research is that local LE is well positioned to be significant contributors and can use their existing strengths in a CT role to enhance homeland security (HS).


The L.E.A.D. model is characterized by the following acronym.





Lead (L): This thesis asserts that HS does start with hometown security, and begins by individual local LE agencies leading the way toward the integration of CT into their missions, which begins with an understanding of the threat. Local LE leaders must educate themselves on the threat of terror from homegrown and international entities. Only then will they begin to understand the ideologies, tactics, and methods of those who would seek to do harm in their communities. The next step is to develop viable relationships with a regional fusion center and a Federal Bureau of Investigation—Joint Terrorism Task Force (FBI-JTTF) to foster two-way information sharing. Thirdly, explore federal grant funding opportunities to facilitate CT activity. Once terrorism is understood, an agency must acknowledge that the threat exists and incorporate this possibility into its strategic plan.

Education & Training (E): This topic starts with a holistic approach of raising the terrorism intelligence quotient (IQ) within each individual locality that includes local LE, other local government agencies, citizens, elected officials, and the private sector. Local LE can lead this effort by first educating and training themselves and then developing training programs that target the aforementioned groups. Local training can be accomplished through participation in “no cost” Department of Homeland Security (DHS) training programs available on-line, “in house,” or off site, such as the State and Local Law Enforcement Anti-Terrorism Training Program (SLATT) by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). A start for local LE in this direction is to identify and develop an “in house” subject matter expert (SME) through the aforementioned training opportunity. These individuals can provide CT instruction to department personnel at all levels and liaise with state and federal partners on issues related to HS. An important aspect of this role is that it can be performed in duality with existing duties, much like a field training officer or firearms instructor; it does not disrupt core service, but does provide an agency-based SME to coordinate CT activity.

In the protection of local communities, local LE cannot be the only contributor or entity engaged in CT. This thesis asserts that LE should be the catalyst for CT locally, but that a holistic approach is needed to include the training and education of other government agencies, elected officials, the community, and the private sector to assist in CT. This approach ties into the third component of L.E.A.D., the active gathering of intelligence from local communities related to terrorism.

Actively Gather Intelligence (A): Local LE is already heavily engaged in intelligence gathering related to traditional criminal activity; once a department’s personnel have been trained and educated on terrorism, all that is needed is the “how” and “who” to share information related to terrorism. Engagement in suspicious activity reports (SAR) is a “no brainer” for local LE. Once command and field personnel have been initially trained, SARs can be quickly integrated into existing policing efforts. This thesis asserts that terrorism-related information is different from traditional criminal information, in that such information may have national or international implications, and therefore, it is of vital importance to share terrorism-related information in a timely and standardized manner with local FBI-JTTF and state fusion centers. National SAR Initiative (NSI) documents found within this thesis provide detailed guidelines for the implementation of SAR at the local level.

Local LE officers have numerous opportunities during the performance of their duties to gather intelligence related to terrorism. It is assumed that local police conduct daily debriefs of arrestees, suspicious persons, confidential sources, and concerned citizens on a host of issues related to traditional criminal activity. Thus, an opportunity exists for CT integration, with minimal disruption of existing practices. In an effort to detect and mitigate terrorist activity, local LE questioning and consensual contact can slightly shift to include inquiries also related to extremism and radicalization. A significant factor in successfully thwarting an attack is to develop information and identify the perpetrators pre-attack, as terrorists operate in the shadows and do not operate overtly. The final element of L.E.A.D. is the goal of the first three components, the detection of terrorists who may be planning or hiding within a local community.

Detect (D): Jonathan White states that the task facing American police is not so much the incorporation of new tactics or technologies, but the establishment of a CT mindset in everyday LE operations. No community in America can remain 100% immune from violence or terror, but local LE is duty bound to use all the tools and resources available, to protect, lead, and educate their citizenry in respect to terrorism. It is the view of this thesis that a failure to engage in CT at the local LE level, not only creates a significant gap for overall United States (U.S.) HS, but is also a negligence of duty.


The L.E.A.D. model provides a simple and flexible model designed to assist any local LE entity to evolve from zero or little engagement in CT, to a comprehensive integration that becomes part of an agency’s deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). It is a progressive model reliant on following the steps in sequential order, but is based upon a low-tech, easy-to-develop and low-cost application that can be expanded into Anytown, USA.

It is recommended that local LE agencies without a CT strategy consider L.E.A.D as an alternative to doing nothing. Local departments need only to envision themselves post-attack, and ask why they did not integrate CT into their policing strategies, when they may have had the opportunity to make a difference and save lives.

[1] Jack K. Riley et al., “Think Locally, Act Nationally: Police Efforts in Fighting Terrorism Need Greater Federal Leadership,” RAND Corporation, 24–29, Spring 2006,

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