- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2007

Justice Department violent crime task forces nationwide have overlapping missions, are not required to coordinate their operations and investigations, and fail to cooperate in joint probes, a report said yesterday.

Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said task forces operated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Marshals Service and the FBI also jeopardized agents by interfering with one another’s field operations.

“The department’s violent crime task forces are an important resource in the department’s efforts to combat violent crime,” Mr. Fine said. “The need for coordination has grown as the number of cities with multiple department task forces has increased significantly over the past several years.”

But in assessing how well the task forces coordinated their work, he said the Justice Department fell short in preventing a duplication of efforts, particularly when it created task forces in jurisdictions in which others were already operating.

Mr. Fine said that although the mission of the task forces overlapped, with the exception of those targeting anti-gang activities, the department did not require them to coordinate operations or investigations, to cooperate in joint investigations or to guard against conflicts with other task forces.

He said the department lacked sufficient policies requiring coordination of the task forces.

ATF Violent Crime Impact Teams (VCIT) operate in 22 cities; DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams have 22 teams in 21 DEA districts; FBI Safe Streets Task Forces have 160 teams in 138 cities; and the U.S. Marshals’ Regional Fugitive Task Forces have six teams in 23 federal judicial districts.

The report was issued as Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced that he was expanding the VCIT program to Orlando, Fla.; Mesa, Ariz.; San Bernardino, Calif.; and San Juan, Puerto Rico, which were described as having “an unacceptable increase in homicides or other violent crimes.”

Mr. Gonzales’ announcement also comes as the FBI prepares to release new numbers next week showing that violent crime continues to rise nationally.

Mr. Fine said investigators conducted field visits in eight cities with multiple task forces — Los Angeles; Las Vegas; Chicago; Gary, Ind.; Philadelphia; Camden, N.J.; Atlanta; and Birmingham, Ala. — and found that the coordination of task force operations varied.

He said task forces in Philadelphia, Camden, Chicago and Gary were better coordinated because the U.S. attorneys and local task force used information-sharing systems to coordinate task force operations in their jurisdictions.

Mr. Fine said failures to coordinate task force investigations resulted in three “blue-on-blue” incidents in which task force members were misidentified as criminals by members of other task forces.

Mr. Fine recommended the department coordinate task force operations and require them to use national and local information-sharing and deconfliction systems to coordinate investigations and protect officer safety. The department concurred with the recommendations.

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