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Running a Three-Legged Race: the San Diego Police Department, the Intelligence Community, and Counterterrorism

HSPI Issue Brief 12
August 1, 2011
Andrew G. Mills and Joseph R.Clark


Today HSPI released an issue brief on local law enforcement counterterrorism practices, taking as a case study the experience of the San Diego Police Department's Criminal Intelligence Unit (CIU). The authors, Andrew G. Mills and Joseph R. Clark, find that the CIU's decision to work with and learn from the intelligence community and the local fusion center represents a step forward in local law enforcement counterterrorism practices. However, the authors contend that lessons learned by the San Diego Police Department will be of little use unless local law enforcement agencies across the country make similar efforts to improve their counterterrorism approaches by working with their local fusion centers and the broader intelligence community.


Despite a decade of political rhetoric, blue ribbon commissions, and grant-making on the part of Congress and the presidency, local police departments remain all but absent from the counterterrorism efforts of America’s intelligence community.    Although there are understandable reasons for this absence — a misunderstanding of the threat domain, concerns over potential constitutional or statutory prohibitions, a tendency to focus on (perhaps exclusively) more conventional crimes — this deficiency in the United States’ approach to counterterrorism intelligence must now be resolved.

What follows is an account of why local police departments ought to evolve to become active participants in the national intelligence enterprise against jihadi terrorism.  It is also a first-hand description of how local law enforcement agencies can adapt and innovate in the face of a shifting threat domain while continuing to meet the primary responsibility each has for protecting the communities it serves.  Beginning in 2009, the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) undertook a bold attempt to evaluate and then adjust the processes by which SDPD conceptualized, collected, analyzed, and acted upon counterterrorism-relevant information.  The lessons learned have value not just for the counterterrorism efforts and efficacy of US municipalities, but for American counterterrorism efforts writ large.

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Andrew G. Mills is the Commanding Officer of Criminal Intelligence and Counter Terrorism for the San Diego Police Department.  He has been a police officer for more than 30 years. Mills serves as a member of HSPI's Counterterrorism & Intelligence Task Force.  Joseph R. Clark is a policy analyst at HSPI.  Dr. Clark received his Ph.D. in political science from the George Washington University.

Counterterrorism & Intelligence Task Force is predicated on the notion that the US must develop the national collection plan and capacity needed to evaluate and counter a constantly evolving terror threat, this task force exists to address today's most salient counterterrorism and intelligence issues, including: the establishment of intelligence requirements; information sharing among local, state, tribal, and federal governments; suspicious activity reporting; the importance of regional threat assessments, and how best to construct the robust analytical capability necessary at all levels of government to provide a rich picture of existent and emerging threats.  This body exists to examine the framework through which the United States and other allied nations gather and analyze information about the metastasizing jihadi threat and to propose intelligence priorities, requirements, and processes to better meet it.


Founded in 2003, The George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) is a nonpartisan think and do tank whose mission is to build bridges between theory and practice to advance homeland security through an interdisciplinary approach. By convening domestic and international policymakers and practitioners at all levels of government, the private and non-profit sectors, and academia, HSPI creates innovative strategies and solutions to current and future threats to the nation.