Throughout the presidential race, one thing has remained at the center of the debate across all issues — Americans feel vulnerable and not in control of their own lives.
Our nation and the world are changing. We look around and see an unpredictable global economy and growing inequality. Health threats like Ebola and the Zika virus know no borders. Major natural disasters are more frequent and hard to predict. And there’s an ever-changing threat from terrorism and violence inside our nation’s borders.
Fort Hood. Boston. San Bernardino. Paris. Brussels. And now, sadly, Orlando.
Through it all, threats both foreign and domestic, one thing is clear, the United States cannot be strong abroad if we are weak at home. The American people demand and deserve safety and security across the board, from economic security to safety in their neighborhoods.
Protecting the homeland must be our first priority. Since this country was attacked on 9/11, our commitment to bring the perpetrators to justice has not wavered. In a blink of an eye, trillions of dollars spent and so much American blood spilled. But in this new age of ISIS and extremism generated over the internet, the terrorist threat is changing and we can’t be stuck fighting the last war.
The fight abroad in places like Afghanistan and Iraq is only half the battle. To really keep America safe in this new era, we need to go full circle. Connect the dots to create an unbreakable ring of protection with the focused knowledge and resources of all local, state and federal authorities. Although the uniforms may be different, we are all fighting the same war, and our respective roles are changing.
In the old days, intelligence about terrorist threats came from the top down, with foreign intercepts being shared with local and state police departments. Now, the most important information is coming from the bottom up. ISIS’ sick propaganda inspires lone wolf attackers and, like it or not, the 900,000 local and state police officers are now the tip of the spear in the domestic fight against terrorism and violence.
In this new fight, national security, homeland security and public safety are all the same thing. Simply put, it’s much more likely that a lone wolf terrorist will encounter 1 of the 1,513 New Orleans Police Department officers, rather than 1 of the 150 FBI agents in the New Orleans office.
Both organizations need more, and it is generally clear that as a nation we are not properly organized nor adequately resourced at the local, state and federal levels to fight the new fight. That local law enforcement are the tip of the spear was never more evident than this past weekend in Orlando, when the brave men and women of local police and sheriff’s departments were the ones on the ground working to keep us safe.
We cannot wait; we need a surge right now.
Congress should invest in domestic security as aggressively as it has overseas. Current domestic counterterrorism and community policing efforts are woefully underfunded. Think about this, America relies on more than 1.3 million active-duty personnel and a trillion dollar annual national security budget; yet, domestically, the FBI’s national terrorism task forces includes just 4,000 local, state and federal officers.
We should also all remember that during the 1990s the federal government through the COPS program spent billions to pay the salaries for thousands of local police officers. In 2015, nearly all that funding was gone and just 915 local officers were hired through the COPS program.
Similarly, funding from the Department of Homeland Security to build up local anti-terrorism capabilities has been significantly cut, with only 28 metro areas receiving direct support last year through the UASI program, down from 64 in 2010.
At the same time, however, billions in taxpayer money has flowed to hire, train and equip local police in other countries like Colombia, Iraq and Afghanistan. We should use every aspect of American power to protect our interests abroad, but we should build our nation at home, as well.
Even when there have been federal public safety investments for our cities, we have too often missed the mark on what it means to be safe at home. Sending surplus tanks to the streets of Ferguson or Baltimore is the wrong approach.
To prevent terrorism and really make America safe, investments from the federal government should instead focus on really strengthening local police departments. That means helping locals hire more officers, community policing training and sophisticated predictive technology that can identify potential threats.
But, perhaps most importantly, in this new age of terrorism, we also need new ways to ensure close collaboration between local and federal agencies. We need strong, well-resourced local departments that can be eyes and ears on the street, and we need local police officers to literally be in the room, sharing information horizontally and vertically with the FBI, ATF, DEA and the U.S. Marshals.
These efforts will also pay dividends as we keep up the fight against crime and gun violence. After all, on the streets of America the weapon of choice for terror is not a suicide vest worn by a jihadist. It is a handgun usually held by an angry young man. That terror in the heart of our communities is the same felt by those innocents in Paris and Orlando.
To be strong abroad, we must also be strong at home. For our nation to be safe, we’ve got to do the whole job and come full circle, closing the gap between local and federal law enforcement authorities both in terms of resources and how we organize ourselves. If we do it, safety, security and freedom will be our reward.