Mark A. Marshall, Chief of Police, Smithfield Police Department, Smithfield, Virginia
t is hard to believe that it has been nearly 10 years since the horrific events of 9/11. Over the last 9 years, we have seen deadly attacks outside of the United States in places such as Madrid, Spain; London, England; India; Saudi Arabia; Indonesia; and Russia, mostly directed or inspired by al Qaeda. Thankfully, we have also seen, because of the concerted efforts of the United States and many other nations, the al Qaeda central organization severely weakened.
Unfortunately, at the same time, we have seen an evolving threat to the United States involving homegrown terrorists inspired by al Qaeda and by individuals such as Anwar Al-Awlaki and Omar Hammami—sadly, both American citizens in exile. Their use of the Internet to radicalize cannot be overstated when considering the homegrown threat. Certainly, the tragic murders at Fort Hood by Nidal Hasan demonstrate this.
The number of credible plots by domestic terrorists that we have uncovered over the past 18 months clearly demonstrates the changing threat we face. These plots also emphasize the need for everyone to recognize this threat—not only first preventers and first responders at all levels, but also individuals in the private sector and citizens.
One of my top priorities as president is to fully engage state, local, and tribal law enforcement in the information and intelligence sharing process. A major key to the success of this goal is for every law enforcement agency to work with its local fusion centers. We have made much progress in the last 10 years. However, there is still much work to be done because we have yet to engage all the partners we need.
We still have not energized totally the vast state, local, and tribal law enforcement community comprising 18,000 agencies and 800,000 pairs of boots on the ground. It is our eyes and our ears that will provide to fusion centers the information that, when appropriately analyzed, could lead to a plot interdicted and a tragedy prevented through the work of a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). Alternatively, a suspicious activity report (SAR) submitted by a patrol officer, vetted locally, and pushed to a fusion center could be linked to a similar SAR, developing a lead or a trend to provide to a JTTF.
However, I still talk to many chiefs of police who are unaware of the fusion centers in their areas or states and say they are not receiving timely and relevant information. I realize there is a responsibility of law enforcement leaders to recognize the threat we face and to take some proactive action to work with their fusion centers to enhance each center’s value to law enforcement. We need to educate and encourage all involved about this shared responsibility.
The IACP believes a key element in expanding the value of fusion centers is ensuring that our efforts to promote information and intelligence sharing reach beyond metropolitan and urban areas. Fusion centers must ensure that agencies in outlying areas are also fully engaged. As recent events have demonstrated, threats are not limited to big cities. And, as we learned in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and other terrorist attacks, terrorists often prepare, plan, practice, and gather resources in suburban and rural areas.
Many state, local, and tribal law enforcement and homeland security leaders know firsthand the value of fusion center information and products and can serve as powerful supporters of fusion center activities. But we can do more.
To that end, fusion centers have an obligation to educate customers on fusion center benefits and engage customers in internal coalition regularly. These customers include not only local law enforcement but also firefighters, emergency medical services workers, public health and public works employees, and other criminal justice partners.
What these efforts, both by the IACP and by other organizations, make abundantly clear is that ensuring law enforcement agencies throughout the United States and the world have the ability to identify; analyze; and, most importantly, share critical criminal- and terrorism-related information is absolutely essential. Only by fully embracing the need for information and intelligence sharing can we overcome the barriers that have hindered our past efforts and ensure that our agencies and our officers have the information they need to protect our citizens from harm.
Just as the police officer on the beat needs to be energized to realize the importance of becoming involved in the information sharing environment, we need to show all law enforcement professionals that the time is now to develop an understanding of the information and intelligence sharing cycles from an “all-crimes” standpoint.
Although we have made significant progress over the past nine years, we must not rest. We must make every effort to ensure that functions of intelligence and information sharing are woven into the daily fabric of state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. ■
Please cite as:
Mark A. Marshall, "Underscoring the Importance of Fusion Centers," President's Message, The Police Chief 78 (April 2011): 6.