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New Role for L.A. in Terror Battle

At a conference in New York, Chief Bratton plans for a national academy in Los Angeles to teach police how to prevent attacks.

September 08, 2006|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — LAPD Chief William J. Bratton revealed plans Thursday to create a national anti-terrorism academy in Los Angeles where law enforcement officers from around the country could learn to identify threats and prevent attacks.

"There is no place like that for local law enforcement agencies," Bratton said in an interview after speaking at a conference attended by 300 law enforcement experts.

The conference was sponsored by the conservative Manhattan Institute's Center for Policing Terrorism. Institute officials agreed Thursday to help flesh out the academy proposal starting next week.

"It's a wonderful idea," said Tim Connors, the center's director. "There isn't any formal way to capture what we have learned and pass it on to police officers."

The academy proposal came as law enforcement leaders including U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales warned that the threat of homegrown terrorism not directly linked to Al Qaeda is rising and that local police must play a larger role in preventing attacks.

Meeting near the site of the World Trade Center, Bratton and chiefs from across the country called on the federal government to do more to help local agencies improve their ability to identify and prevent terror plots.

The Manhattan Institute has been working with the Los Angeles Police Department for more than a year to develop a model anti-terrorism program that can be used by other law enforcement agencies, Bratton said.

A training academy could begin with 15 to 20 big-city law enforcement agencies that have already formed an alliance to share anti-terror data, said Deputy Chief Mark Leap, head of the LAPD's anti-terror program.

Bratton said he would like to develop the academy over the next five years with help from experts brought in by the LAPD using existing seed money. Federal grants and other non-city money could then be sought for academy operations.

Bratton also announced plans to use $10 million from the federal Homeland Security Department to create a computer database that would allow the dozens of law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County to share intelligence on potential terror plots.

"It really enforces the idea of getting the bastards before they get you," said Bratton.

Also speaking at the conference were law enforcement executives from the FBI and agencies in Miami, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Providence, R.I., as well as Sandra Hutchens, division chief of Los Angeles County's Office of Homeland Security.

Hutchens said the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is working to build trust in the Muslim community so that people will report suspected illegal activity. In fact, sheriff officials are scheduled to meet Monday with community leaders, she said.

The challenge, Hutchens said, is to fight terrorism while facing budget constraints and the demands of combating other crime.

Atty. Gen. Gonzales said the nation has a strong network of federal, state and local police agencies working together to thwart Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks.

Gonzales said that although Al Qaeda has been interrupted by the arrest and deaths of many of its leaders, a new "homegrown" threat is emerging involving U.S. citizens who have become radicalized.

"We know local police departments are in the best position to identify homegrown radicals, so our network will be led by them," Gonzales told the law enforcement leaders.

Although he was greeted warmly by the audience, Gonzales took the podium after a panel discussion earlier in the day in which some chiefs complained that the federal government has not done enough to help them.

Miami Police Chief John Timoney, whose agency made arrests this year in an alleged hometown terror plot, joined Bratton in criticizing some federal anti-terror efforts.

"We are five years from 9/11 and it's still not clear to me who is in charge of intelligence in the United States," said Timoney, who was Bratton's second in command at the New York Police Department and then competed against him to become Los Angeles police chief.

Bratton said the LAPD and other local agencies are stepping up to improve training and other aspects of the anti-terrorism battle, including plans for an academy, "because the federal government has not done it."

In particular, Bratton decried cuts in traditional federal funding to beef up police forces, saying that a federal program to hire 100,000 officers nationwide in the 1990s helped reduce crime.

The chief also lashed out at federal lawmakers for the "absurdity" of a recent proposal that could limit the ability of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to share information on gun owners with local law enforcement.

"Now the idiots in Congress are proposing we can't even share it among ourselves," Bratton told the audience.

He also said he expects that the Department of Homeland Security, created after 9/11 by combining several law enforcement agencies, will have to be broken up in a few years.

"I think it got too big," Bratton said.

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