“All my community policing grants turned into fire trucks, and homeland security became the monster that ate law enforcement.” While he may not be originally from Milwaukee, the police chief of my home town demonstrates a familiar flair that reminds me of Brew Town.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn spoke yesterday at a two-day conference entitled “Shaping the Obama Administration’s Counterterrorism Strategy.” Flynn focused his remarks on the disconnect between what front line law enforcement sees as useful for collecting intelligence and combating crime and terrorism and what the federal agencies believe the states need. This disconnect was a concern before DHS stood up, which is why the state grants program was instituted, and it proved to be an ongoing issue as the UASI grants began to flow and when the Office of State and Local Government Coordination came to be.
Flynn was chief in Arlington on 9/11 and responded to the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon. He told the conference attendees that “The most frustrating, difficult experience of my life [has been] dealing with the federal departments.” That has to change.
While observers worry that the shift at the Obama White House to consolidate the Homeland Security Council with the more powerful National Security Council is a step in the wrong direction for states and localities, a different disconnect may be present. What Flynn was saying is that federal homeland security grants too often focus on tangible capital assets that are more useful for emergency response. He believes that training and enlarging police forces can pay significant dividends toward preventing homeland security lapses.
So as the Obama administration takes the reigns, two important issues must be addressed regarding the coordination between states/localities and DHS. First, the former needs to have a more productive seat at the table for influencing the best application of federal grant money when it comes to local efforts to protect the homeland. The former head of these DHS grants spoke on the same panel as Chief Flynn and admitted failed attempts to do so, losing out to “the bureaucracy.”
Second, the federal government – including those in Congress – must appreciate the value of longer-term investments in human capital at the local level. Many at DHS already understand this, but it is critical that such a shift in investments be enabled from DHS leadership and the Congress. It will take an understanding of the value of preventive capabilities, not just those for response, i.e. fire trucks.