Law enforcement officials agree that communication between federal agencies and their local counterparts is a problem, one that hampers small sheriff’s offices and police departments.
At a Monday roundtable with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, both Sheriff Travis Neeley and Madisonville Police Chief Herbert Gilbert agreed that through technology or policy, local agencies can’t communicate with any federal, state or county agencies.
Brady said he likes to meet with local law enforcement agencies to find out what issues they are facing and what we can do to help, or what to do to not help.
“I think one of the biggest threats we have now is the very real potential for terrorism in our country,” Brady said. “You look at what’s happening in Paris, in Boston, in San Bernardino, Calif., we know we’re at war.”
Brady said that the just-passed spending bill, which wasn’t all that popular, did a couple of things that will help.
“One was to fund our military men and women fully, because we’re at war,” he said. “Secondly, there has been a lot of attention paid to people coming to this country, particularly the Syrian refugees; there’s a huge loophole, a big vulnerability we had to close immediately, which was the Visa Waiver Program. It made sense at the time, but it was a different world then.
“Now, anyone who has a dual citizenship, or who has traveled to the Middle East in the last four years, cannot just get back into the country,” Brady said. “They have to go through the full security procedure.”
The bill also added another 1,000 border agents, which Brady said was important to Texas.
“That’s why I voted for that spending bill, because it’s my No. 1 job to fund our national defense,” he said. “But with that threat of terrorism I worry about how it affects our local law enforcement. Counties like Madison and Leon, which are on a major route of travel from a border state, are a concern.”
Neeley said there’s very little communication with local law enforcement from any level.
“It’s almost non-existent,” he said.
He also said that the technology used in communication with other agencies is too disparate, meaning the systems can’t tie in together.
Local agencies can try and make a phone call, but good luck with that, he said.
“If someone would put some thought into coming up with a unified system, that would be great,” he said.
Additionally, since the federal government forced local agencies off of wide-band radio and on to narrow band, it’s hampered communication further, Neeley said.
“We need access — not just with the people in this room but at the state and federal levels,” he said. “The only way to communicate now is through telephone.”
Constable James Weathers said that he used to get personal phone calls, and quite a bit of information from the FBI on tactics and things to keep an eye out for, but hasn’t really received anything for several years.
Leon County Judge Byron Ryder said that the government ignoring funding for mental health has led to an upswing in tragedies like school shootings.
Other topics touched on during the meeting were civil asset forfeiture laws, which the Justice Department has taken steps to mitigate; and sanctuary cities.