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Research Report

National Security and Local Police

  • Michael Price
Published: December 10, 2013

The September 11, 2001 attacks prompted a national effort to improve information sharing among all levels of law enforcement, including on the local level. Federal money poured into local police departments so they could fulfill their new role as the “eyes and ears” of the intelligence community. But how do local police departments go about collecting intelligence? What guidance do they use? What standards or policies, if any, must they adhere to?

To learn how state and local agencies are operating in this domestic intelligence architecture, the Brennan Center surveyed 16 major police departments, 19 affiliated fusion centers, and 14 JTTFs. What we found was organized chaos — a sprawling, federally subsidized, and loosely coordinated system designed to share information that is collected according to varying local standards. As detailed in the following report, this headlong rush into intelligence work has created risks that hurt counterterrorism efforts and undermine police work. The lack of oversight, accountability, and quality control over how police collect and share personal information about law-abiding Americans not only violates their civil liberties of Americans, but creates a mountain of data with little to no counterterrorism value.