Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



National Security Law Program


Center on Global Governance


What makes the issue of American policing and national security so interesting and complex is the decentralized and localized nature of most law enforcement in the United States. These attributes give rise to three challenges for policing and national security. First, the decentralized and localized nature of American policing creates enormous organizational problems in coordinating national security activities, and combating terrorism in particular. Second, the counter-terrorism agenda may influence or disrupt systems and patterns of political accountability of local police agencies. Third, some of the same attributes of local policing that makes it a useful counter-terrorism tool also create difficulties in effectively carrying out more traditional functions. The tension that sometimes exists between law enforcement efforts to prosecute criminals and secret intelligence activities to monitor them is exacerbated when stretched across local-federal lines, and some actions that may be important from a national security perspective may also be disruptive to more traditional law and order police efforts within localized communities. Whether and how these challenges are resolved depend heavily not only responses generated through the political system but on the evolutionary trajectory of the national security threats that spawn them.