The maturing of fusion centers

In years past, “fusion” maybe didn’t mean much to law enforcement. It was more of a nuclear physics term, a word used to describe technology, or a maybe a name for a dance club or the music played inside. “Fusion” didn’t start working its...

The TFC is working to further empower state and local law enforcement, as well as larger public safety communities. It utilizes a working group concept to coordinate with customers to better understand their unique information needs, and how the state fusion center can meet their criminal and homeland security-related information needs. The centers share relevant federal alerts and warnings related to terrorism threats, emerging criminal threats, information from FBI’s criminal gang unit, human traffic analysis program, and other sources. Their analysts develop intelligence products and services using the federal, state and local information gathered at the center. Beyond that, the TFC provides direct law enforcement support. If needed, the TFC can step in and support an investigation with access to other sources of information, including another fusion center.

Hewitt, who worked with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Nashville for four and a half years, says the same level of development and maturity that’s taking place in the nation’s fusion centers also needs to take place out in the field. “As criminal intelligence units continue to develop and mature their field-level operations, they will then be in a better position to leverage the strength of the nation’s fusion centers to meet individual jurisdictions’ information needs,” he says. “That, in turn, will improve the flow of information from the field to the fusion center. It is this cycle of information flow that offers everyone the best opportunity to detect criminal activity that may have a nexus to terrorism activity,” says Hewitt, who was a member of the Nashville Metropolitan Police Department for nearly 22 years. The TFC wants to continue providing training to increase awareness of the benefits their center can provide, and to increase networking.

Hewitt says they’ve considered online training, but nothing replaces bringing people together in the same room. The TFC hopes to continue bringing in DHS and Department of Justice instructors and keep costs down by hosting conferences in state parks.

In September 2010, federal, state and local officials completed the first nationwide, in-depth assessment of fusion centers to evaluate their capabilities, and to establish strategic priorities for federal government support. Data collected during the Baseline Capabilities Assessment is being used to inform efforts by the federal government and fusion centers to strengthen capabilities, mitigate capability gaps, and develop and deploy federal resources.

In the past, Ashley says fusion centers have grown autonomously with catch-as-catch-can federal funding. That’s changing. “Hopefully what we’re seeing is the beginning of a more formalized program,” says Ashley, who served as an assistant secretary of DHS during the recent Bush Administration, and oversaw the Homeland Security Grant Program.

He points out the 2011 Homeland Security Grant Program requires each state to include an investment justification for each fusion center. As funds are dwindling, Ashley says prevention and protection need to be prioritized, and the National Fusion Center Association is working with its partners in Congress and at DHS to ensure that they are prioritized. Currently every state has a primary designated fusion center; some also have others designated by the governor.

Will there be more fusion centers to come?

Ashley says that depends on whether the risk inside a community warrants a fusion process, and that need is not being served by another fusion center. He predicts the fusion process will expand as information and intelligence-led policing become more pervasive within the law enforcement community.

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