Homeland insecurity

Money from the federal Department of Homeland Security has been steadily trickling into Butte County, funding more university police, increased training and now portable wireless cameras for the Chico police. But remarks made by a federal spokesman at a gathering of local law enforcement officials last week indicate that in order to get the funds, police are being asked to make a stronger case that terrorists are living among us.

In a special meeting at the City Council Chambers July 22, law enforcement representatives from Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Tehama and Yuba counties met with California Office of Homeland Security Chief Ronald Iden to discuss the Regional Law Enforcement Communications Initiative (RLECI) and the Valley Area Law Enforcement Information Exchange (VALEIE) project.

Funding for VALEIE, a $2.78 million communications super-structure that would allow instant access between participating agencies, is being sought from federal monies separate from the $5 million that the region has already been guaranteed since the 9/11 attacks. When Secretary of Homeland Defense Tom Ridge visited California recently, he announced that California could be eligible to receive nearly $700 million this fiscal year.

But in order to put a lock on the funds needed here, Iden, after viewing a presentation about the VALEIE project, suggested police should include more information about supposed terrorist threats to the region.

“You need to draw the terrorism nexus a little more strongly,” he said. “This is not hard to do.” The “hook you need to get into Homeland Security,” as Iden put it, is to “make the terrorism connection” because “that’s a problem you can throw money at.

“Rural areas are less likely the target and more likely the home to terrorists. [There is] an increased likelihood you’ll find terrorist cells in your area,” Iden said, which led him to suggest that police make the argument that officers need more training on terrorism because they “need to know what terrorists look like.” Describing evidence of terrorists that police might see and not recognize, Iden said “long black hair and posters on the wall. … you know. … Officers need to know what [this] means.”

Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty maintained Tuesday that he, for one, did not take Iden to mean that local police need to exaggerate terrorist threats in order to get money for projects like VALEIE. That project has been 18 months in the making so far and requires federal funding to be implemented.

“The president of the United States wants local governments to be able to share resources and information. That’s all we want to do,” Hagerty said.

When asked about the new wireless surveillance cameras the department is getting, which are paid for by homeland security funds, Hagerty said they would be used in tactical situations, as well as for surveillance on graffiti and drug hot spots.

“We’re not putting cameras around town,” he said. “They’re portable; we can use them in tactical situations.”

When asked about recent comments in the Enterprise-Record attributed to Community Services Officer Tim Truby, who was quoted as saying the police wanted to keep an eye on "potential terrorists or anarchists that need to be watched," Hagerty said, "No, that’s not the purpose of the [cameras]. It is for an investigation that we may do. It could be for a number of reasons, but graffiti is the easiest one to understand."