Changing Today's Law Enforcement Culture to Face 21st Century Threats

Matt Mayer, President of the Buckeye Institute, and I address the need for law enforcement to adopt cultural changes necessary to combat the 21st Century terror threat

Abstract: Many aspects of the terror threat—from communication between terrorist groups to recruitment of new members—has been changing, largely due to ever-developing Internet technology and new possibilities in cyberspace. One new trend is the lone-wolf terrorist—such as Army Major Nidal Hassan, who massacred his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood. New developments in the terror threat—and the terror threat as a whole—require a cultural shift of entrenched attitudes and approaches in law enforcement agencies across the country. Robust partnerships between the federal government and states and localities are also a crucial part of fighting 21st-century crime and terrorism. Homeland security and law enforcement experts Matt Mayer and Scott Erickson explain why a paradigm shift is needed—and how to achieve it.

Internet technology and the proliferation of social networking sites have changed how terrorist organizations recruit and communicate with would-be acolytes. This development has rendered the collection of intelligence an issue of salience for federal, state, and local authorities. In essence, no longer can intelligence gathering remain solely the dominion of the federal government. The new face of terror requires a robust, decentralized intelligence-gathering apparatus that reaches far beyond the usual scope of the federal government and associated intelligence agencies, and brings together the expertise and manpower of the nation’s 18,000 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

The movement from a highly centralized process for gathering and interpreting intelligence to one that is largely decentralized will require changes to the very culture and psychology of law enforcement. It becomes imperative that the broader state and local law enforcement community create a new generation of police officers trained in the recognition and awareness of both traditional criminal activity as well as activity that may be a nexus to terrorism. Congress and the Administration can encourage this cultural shift through:

  • Leadership by the Obama Administration that emphasizes the need for stronger partnerships between state and local law enforcement and the federal government on domestic counterterrorism matters;
  • Promotion of best practices and adoption by the Department of Homeland Security of uniform standards for its law enforcement and training programs, including consistent and comprehensive training standards for all new officers before engaging in fieldwork;
  • Dedication of federal resources to terrorism-related training to address core needs; and
  • Examination of ways to give states and localities a real and sustained voice at the federal policymaking table on homeland security issues.

Read the full paper at The Heritage Foundation