Local officials joined U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) on Friday in calling on Congress to approve funding for grants that would help municipal police departments fight terrorism locally.
While the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee did approve a bill in February to formally authorize the eight-month-old Office of Community Partnerships in the Department of Homeland Security, the committee declined to pass the accompanying language that would allow the office to give grants to municipalities, nonprofits and universities.
“It’s not good enough, if you’re a federal official, to give a speech about how tough you are on the bad guys if you’re not going to vote on the funding,” Casey said at a North Side press conference Friday. “(Police departments) need dollars; they don’t need speeches.”
The final amount of grant funding that would be available to local governments and organizations would be up to the Appropriations Committee, Casey said.
The state's senior senator referred to two recent cases of extremism in Pennsylvania: one in which a 19-year-old man was arrested in Harrisburg in December for allegedly aiding ISIS, and another in which a man in Philadelphia told police he shot an officer in the name of Islam and ISIS in January.
If Senate Bill 2369 were to come through, Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay said southwestern Pennsylvania law enforcement offices would apply for a grant to build a multi-municipal data-sharing center to combat potential terrorist networks. He said the local FBI office had already identified a potential site in Cranberry.
McLay said the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police’s current information systems are badly outdated.
“We’re trying to do some of the real-time crime analysis things, working with some great partners to develop some technology that allows us to do that, but we’re building it on a records management system that was built when cell phones were this big,” McLay said, holding his hands about 10 inches apart.
He said such a "fusion center" would cost "a lot" of money. McLay said it could help bridge the information gap between police jurisdictions.
“There are some individuals who may be potential terror threats who might be on my radar that might not be on the radar of Wilkinsburg, even though we could throw a rock into their jurisdiction,” McLay said.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said the “fractionalized government structure” in southwestern Pennsylvania drives the need for a regional data-sharing platform.
“And it could become an open platform that could become available to police forces all across this country, and a model to be able to get the type of information to break down (terrorist) networks and cells, but that requires that tough vote in Congress to be able to fund it,” Peduto said.
According to Casey, there is a “good likelihood we can get support” for grant funding for the DHS’s Office of Community Partnerships. However, according to a prognosis by the independent website GovTrack.us, Senate Bill 2369 has just a 4 percent chance of being enacted into law.