July 24, 2008 11:11AM

Crime vs. Terrorism in Providence

The New York Times reports that Providence’s police would prefer to spend their federal grants on crime rather than terrorism. That is because there is crime in Rhode Island but no terrorism.

This conflict is national, as I discussed here. Because our domestic counter‐​terrorism bureaucracy is largely our crime‐​fighting bureaucracy, the more you chase terrorists, the less you chase criminals. Some of the counter‐​terrorism money is new, but much of it comes by cutting back on other things. The FBI only has so many agents and the Justice Department so much grant money. Police officers only have so much time.

The result is pressure to divert counter‐​terrorism resources to crime‐​fighting. There are not enough terrorists to go around, so terrorist fusion centers become all‐​hazards fusion centers. Police departments try to use counter‐​terrorism funding to buy things — like police cars — that aid their actual work. Scandals about misused homeland security funds follow. But maybe the misallocating police had a better grasp on local risks than the grant‐​giving feds.

This was all summarized by the Wire. Early on, Detective McNulty struggles to interest the FBI in his investigation of Baltimore drug dealers, going so far as to call them terrorists to try to meet FBI criteria. Later, as a beat cop, he complains about the uselessness of a counter‐​terrorism course but uses notebooks they give him there for his kids’ school supplies.