Local law-enforcement authorities say it is too early to tell whether the major restructuring of the FBI will limit the investigative support they are accustomed to receiving from FBI agents.
“It’s really a wait-and-see situation,” said Montgomery County Police Lt. Harold Allen.
Some officials are concerned that the FBI’s shift in focus toward making its No. 1 priority the prevention of terrorist attacks will come at the expense of local law enforcement.
It could lead to the thinning of key FBI resources needed by local authorities on such tasks as bank-robbery investigations, “but it’s really way too early to see what the final effect will be,” Lt. Allen said.
In announcing the restructuring this week, the FBI indicated it will increasingly ask state and local police for help on small bank robberies in which single, armed robbers commit isolated robberies.
The bureau also may seek local help with kidnappings when victims are not taken across state lines.
“We’re going to continue our own investigations, regardless,” said Maryland State Police Sgt. Thornnie O. Rouse.
“Right now, we can’t just say the FBI is just dropping the ball. We don’t know yet,” he said. “Until we receive further word, we’re holding off on our comments.”
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson yesterday said local law-enforcement agencies in Maryland, Virginia and the District can “expect [the support] we’ve performed all along, just to a somewhat lesser extent.”
Last month, state and local police working with the International Association of Chiefs of Police convinced FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that a wholesale shift of some crimes away from the FBI was a bad idea.
Some bank robberies, for example, are committed by criminals who are active across state lines and might be stealing money for domestic terrorism.
On May 9, Mr. Mueller told the annual meeting of the Police Executive Research Forum that in the post-September 11 climate, the FBI “simply can’t be all things to all people.”
The bureau’s readjustment, “of course, is going to have implications for our relationships [with local authorities],” he told the forum. “I think you understand that we will be working fewer investigations with you that are not related to terrorism. We may do fewer drug investigations, one-note bank robberies, and the like.”
Some local law-enforcement authorities were neither surprised nor concerned about the statements.
“At this point, we have no fear that the FBI’s support of our investigations is going to decline,” said Alexandria police spokeswoman Amy Bertsch. “After the attacks last fall, we were told not to expect any special FBI agents to automatically respond on our bank robberies, and yet the first bank robbery we had, there they were on the scene immediately.”
The FBI’s announcements this week were understandable, Mrs. Bertsch said. “We have the needs of the people of Alexandria to consider. They have the needs of the citizens of the entire country to consider.”
Virginia State Police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said the FBI’s restructuring likely won’t change the way local police and federal agents work together.
“When we work with the FBI on such cases as computer crimes, white-collar crimes and other types of case where we’re investigating suspects from out of state, I don’t think we’ll be impacted,” she said.