The Joint Regional Intelligence Center has its critics, however. The heavy workload troubles counter-terrorism experts, such as UCLA's Amy Zegart, among others, who complain that officials "need to narrow the scope of inquiry to avoid more wild-goose chases rather than conduct them." Experts also maintain that it's hard to tell who leads the center, which is co-managed, in theory at least, by the LAPD, the Sheriff's Department and the FBI. Other criticisms include the center's remote location -- which makes it an unlikely assembly point in an emergency -- staffing shortages and difficulty obtaining security clearances in timely fashion.
A second pillar of the LAPD's counter-terrorism effort is Operation Archangel (also financed by millions in federal Homeland Security funds), which uses sophisticated computer software to identify, prioritize and protect vulnerable targets -- so far, 500 of them, including Disneyland and nuclear plants, officials say. Archangel asks the owners and operators of these sites to provide the latest structural information -- floor plans, air-conditioning and electrical-system locations, entrances, stairwells and so on -- which goes into a huge database. Software then assesses vulnerabilities and devises deterrence and prevention strategies as well as emergency response plans.
But here too resources are limited. Archangel operates with just 15 people -- one-third its projected staffing -- and not around the clock. In addition, some private businesses are reluctant to associate openly with the program, fearing that being identified as targets will drive away tourists or business. Such concerns rule out L.A.'s adoption of the New York Police Department's "in-your-face" exercises, like its random deployments of heavily armed police and vehicles to sites across the city.
The lack of public urgency means that Bratton must work doubly hard to get the counter-terrorism manpower, money and information that he needs. And that, in turn, has involved lots of travel, for which he has faced criticism. Staunchly defended by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Bratton says the LAPD and the city benefit from the information and cooperation he gets from his travels. The explanation has satisfied most critics.
Continuing to promote "jointness," Bratton is trying to get several cities to pool resources to station detectives overseas, as New York has for several years. These liaison officers would share their reports with those who helped finance their posts. Supported by the Manhattan Institute and the Department of Homeland Security, he is also planning a national police academy in Los Angeles to train police from cities across the country in intelligence-led policing skills.
Both the NYPD and the LAPD agree that a key way to crush incipient terrorist cells and thwart terrorism is to use local laws and follow locally generated leads, which, after all, is what good police departments do best. One of the LAPD's most celebrated examples of the strategy is a 2005 Torrance case in which the arrest of two men for robbing a string of gas stations in that city eventually unraveled a militant Islamic plot to attack U.S. military facilities, synagogues and other places where Jews gather in Los Angeles County.
Another success, details of which haven't yet been made public, is what the LAPD calls its "coming of age" terrorism case: the uncovering in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 of a group of French-speaking North Africans, then living in an apartment complex in Hollywood, who may have provided support to the 9/11 hijackers. LAPD investigators found "earmarks of a classic safe house" and eventually focused on a taxi driver named Qualid Benomrane, who they believe chauffeured two of the hijackers around L.A. and San Diego. The LAPD, using non-terror statutes but not wiretaps, succeeded in breaking up what it believes was an Al Qaeda cell. Its members have either been arrested on various criminal charges, deported or left the country voluntarily. (Neither the FBI, which helped investigate the cell, nor the 9/11 commission agreed with the LAPD that this was an Al Qaeda support cell.)
Because most U.S. cities' counter-terrorism resources match L.A.'s more than they do New York's, Bratton's priority of pooling resources and information is likely to be a more attractive, if less ambitious, model than New York City's approach. Washington has begun to acknowledge that thwarting terrorism requires better local intelligence about what potentially dangerous groups and individuals are planning. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security's "Urban Area Security Initiative" began to offer grants to help local police strengthen their ability to collect and analyze intelligence. Our cities -- not only L.A. and New York -- will be safer for it.