Last week, the city of San Francisco announced that it is suspending its involvement in the Joint Terrorism Task Force—the primary mechanism for counterterrorism cooperation among law enforcement.
This task force has allowed the law enforcement community to stop terror plots such as the 2015 plot to attack a public venue in North Carolina with a rifle, the plot by a radicalized former member of the National Guard to attack military personnel in 2016, and most recently, a plot to blow up a train station in Missouri with pipe bombs at the beginning of this year.
A Joint Terrorism Task Force is made up of multiple law enforcement agencies, spanning local and federal organizations. Most formed after 9/11, and there are currently over 100 task forces based in cities across the United States that help coordinate investigations among law enforcement to ensure that terrorists are uncovered before they strike.
Communication between law enforcement agencies is vital to the fight against terrorism. With the decision to suspend its cooperation with the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the city of San Francisco has created an opportunity for information that is vital to potentially stopping terrorism to slip through the cracks.
Without an organized communication line open between law enforcement agencies, the danger becomes that investigations into suspected terror organizations will stall for lack of evidence that may in fact be held by another agency, or that investigations will not be opened at all.
When agencies are not fully communicating and sharing information, some pieces of information that would stand out to one law enforcement agency may be viewed as irrelevant or inconsequential by another agency that doesn’t have the same background information.
The suspension of San Francisco’s involvement in the Joint Terrorism Task Force does not mean that all information sharing between law enforcement agencies will come to a screeching halt. Agencies will still have the opportunity to work together, but without the same level of organization.
The problem is that this ad hoc arrangement requires far more effort to make sure all the various partners are on the same page, and it makes information sharing and cooperation vulnerable to mistakes, delays, and forgetfulness.
Law enforcement officers are busy enough with their day-to-day responsibilities keeping us safe. We shouldn’t be making their jobs harder.
The potential for mistakes makes San Francisco’s suspension of the Joint Terrorism Task Force an unwise decision that leaves its residents less safe. The best course of action for the city of San Francisco is to reinstate its cooperation with the task force as quickly as possible.
Of course, the relationship between Joint Terrorism Task Forces, the FBI, and local law enforcement isn’t perfect. While local law enforcement has increasingly done a better job sharing information with the FBI through tools like the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the FBI needs to continue to improve the information that it shares with state and local partners.
The priority of the law enforcement agencies is to protect the American people, and sharing information even without a Joint Terrorism Task Force is a vital part of ensuring the safety of American citizens.