WASHINGTON – Baltimore County Police responded to a woman’s call in the early morning hours of Dec. 20, 2014. The woman’s ex-boyfriend had shot her in the stomach and fled to New York.
On the woman’s Instagram account, the man posted a threat to kill New York police offers. By the time officers in Baltimore informed the New York Police Department, it was too late. The ex-boyfriend, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, had shot and killed two NYPD officers before committing suicide.
“That information must get into the hands of the police officers,” NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said at the time.
Bratton was one of five law-enforcement officials who testified Tuesday in front of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The main purpose for the hearing was to determine what could be done for law enforcement to fight terrorism, but senators also raised questions about dealing with mass shooters and the militarization of police departments.
When it came to fighting terrorism, the officials had many of the same requests: more funding, more training and better communication. The failure of the Baltimore County Police to notify the NYPD about Brinsley in 2014 was held up as a bad example.
“The state of communication between police agencies is really reprehensible in this day and age,” said former Commissioner of the Boston Police Department Edward Davis.
“This must be one team, one fight,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services. “One of the cornerstones of counterterrorism efforts is sharing information.”
Rhoda Mae Kerr, president and chair of the board for the International Association of Fire Chiefs, said this information is often not shared with firefighters. In her hometown of Austin, Texas, firefighters are connected with the FBI intelligence center and counterterrorism task force.
“But that is not the case for firefighters around the country,” she said.
The somewhat vague statements were met with frustration by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp,D-N.D.
“We need benchmarks or measurements that can be enforced,” she said.
The witnesses responded by saying that agencies like the FBI must be more willing to provide local police departments with sensitive information.
“If you can’t trust local law enforcement with information, you’re shooting yourself in the foot,” said Wally Sparks, chief of the Everest Metro Police Department.
Sparks’ force serves Weston, Wis., population 15,000. While other witnesses provided insight for large law-enforcement operations, Sparks represented departments with fewer than 50 officers, which accounts for 86 percent of the nation’s departments, a statistic he cited.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and the committee chair, said he would look into the over-classification of information.
There were also requests for continued funding.
“The devil is in the details, and the devil is in the budget,” Bratton said. The NYPD has received $1.4 billion in grants since 9/11 to fight terrorism.
Bratton later assured Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., that training to combat terrorism was also being used to stop and prevent mass shootings, which Booker said were becoming “incredibly frequent within our nation.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., asked questions that served as an antidote to requests from law-enforcement agencies for more funding and information. The militarization of the St. Louis police was one factor blamed for the riots in Ferguson.
“We have little, bitty, tiny departments getting way more military weapons than SWAT officers,” McCaskill said of departments equipped with MRAPs, highly armored military vehicles used in combat. “There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or rationale for that need, and whether or not those communities were equipped to handle that equipment.”
McCaskill called for improving community trust, a sentiment backed by Bratton.
“We have a crisis of confidence in the justice system,” he said.
Sparks defended the use of military-grade equipment. He said that in small communities like his, it would take too long for a SWAT team to respond, and his officers would be the first to respond.
Reach reporter Luke Torrance at [email protected] or 202-408-1494. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns onFacebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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