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Good morning Mr. Chairman, Senator Sessions, and Members of the Subcommittee. My name is Chuck Canterbury and I am the National Vice President of the Grand Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police. With over 299,000 members, the F.O.P. is the largest law enforcement labor organization in the United States. I am here today on behalf of National President Steve Young and the membership of our organization to offer testimony in support of enhanced information sharing between Federal law enforcement and those of us at the State and local level. In addition to serving as the National Vice President of the Fraternal Order of Police, I am also a Major with the Horry County, South Carolina Police Department and a twenty-three year law enforcement veteran. As a police executive, I recognize the benefits of receiving broad and timely access to information regarding threats to our communities. But more importantly, I recognize the absolute necessity of providing the same information to the rank and file officers under my command.
Since the tragic and heinous events of 11 September, our nation has moved rapidly to hunt down and neutralize terrorists both at home and abroad, and to strengthen our sense of security which was mercilessly assaulted on that fateful day. Our nation is now at war against an oftentimes unseen enemy. It is a war that will not be fought solely in a foreign land by our armed forces, but right here in our own backyards. We also know that it is not one to be handled solely by the Federal government, but by a unified effort with our States and localities. And like our military personnel overseas, America's Federal, State and local law enforcement officers have done a tremendous job over the last three months, under difficult circumstances, in protecting our nation from future threats of violence.
A necessary component of these efforts has been, and must continue to be, timely access to specific intelligence and other information regarding threats to our national security. As our first line of defense in cities big and small, law enforcement officers across the country have used the information at their disposal to move quickly to clamp down on those whose only goal is to inflict as much damage to as many people as possible. Both before and since 11 September, many existing systems have been utilized to share intelligence and coordinate efforts against terrorist networks that operate in multiple locations and across jurisdictional lines. One of these, the Regional Information Sharing System (RISS) under the Department of Justice, is comprised of six regional intelligence centers that together serve over 5,600 Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies, and facilitates information sharing and communication to support investigative and prosecution efforts. Another is the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), to which the Federal Bureau of Investigation has recently added their terrorist "watch list," allowing the information to be accessed by State and local law enforcement twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. However, several barriers still remain which restrict the flow of other much-needed information from Federal agencies to law enforcement at the State and local level, and the types of information it is permissible to share.
As you know, broad and timely access to information and intelligence is the lynchpin in the fight against terrorism. It is critical that State and local agencies be kept in the loop by their Federal counterparts. Ninety-six percent of law enforcement officers in the United States are employed by State and local governments - only four percent are Federal agents. Yet, in critical situations, Federal agencies citing Federal statutes restrict access to this important information. All too often, interagency cooperation is hampered by the lack of a free flow of information from Federal agencies to State and local departments. In the past, it has often been a one-way street, with State and local law enforcement providing information to their Federal colleagues, and getting very little if any information in return. We all have the same job to do, but without the same information about threats, our response will be inadequate.
The importance of removing barriers to the free flow and exchange of information is an issue which has been highlighted by both the Congress and the Administration. Following 11 September, many in the State and local law enforcement community expressed frustration with the lack of information flowing down from Federal agencies, and from the FBI in particular. National President Young and our Executive Director Jim Pasco have had comprehensive discussions with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and with other Administration officials at the White House on this issue. All have recognized the importance of providing law enforcement at the State and local level with access to as much information as possible, and General Ashcroft and Director Mueller in particular are to be commended for their efforts to improve the sharing of intelligence and other information with nonfederal agencies. They have provided timely notification to State and local law enforcement about potential terrorist attacks and targets. And they have recognized that there is room to further open lines of communication, and the need to continue to build better relationships with those throughout the law enforcement community. However, they can only provide as much information as current law will allow.
It is for this reason that efforts were made by the Fraternal Order of Police, in close cooperation with officials of the New York City Police Department, to include language on this issue as part of H.R. 3162, the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act." While this effort was ultimately unsuccessful, we are gratified that you, Mr. Chairman, have introduced legislation which will continue the dialogue as to not only how information is shared in the future, but the type of information that can be provided to State and local law enforcement officers and officials. Our State and local law enforcement officers are the first line of defense against threats to our nation. They are the first responders, and because they represent the overwhelming majority of law enforcement in this country, they can be a valuable asset in the fight to improve homeland security. But only if a free and uninterrupted flow of information is allowed to exist among law enforcement agencies at every level of government. Without providing these men and women with as much and as specific information as possible about what or who to be on the look out for, we are not allowing them to operate at their peak efficiency in the war against terrorism.
Over the last several years, we have seen dramatic increases in the power and speed of communications technology to disseminate enormous amounts of information to an even greater array of people. This is the same type of information explosion which is required within the law enforcement community if we-whether at the International, Federal, State or local level-are to be as effective as possible in cracking down on terrorists and those who support them. In our future struggles against terrorism, all law enforcement agencies will require open and uninterrupted lines of communication, providing access to the most up-to-date and comprehensive information available-and this is what will be demanded by those we are sworn to protect and serve. In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, let me thank you again on behalf of the membership of the Fraternal Order of Police for holding this important hearing, and for affording us the opportunity to testify here today. We look forward to working with you, the Members of this Subcommittee, and other interested parties on how best to address this issue and create safer futures for our children and fellow citizens.
I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have at this time.
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