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Terrorism, Federalism, and Police Misconduct

NCJ Number
William J. Stuntz
Date Published
19 pages
This paper reviews the shifting of power from local law enforcement to the FBI during antiterrorism work and what that shift means for the level of police misconduct in the United States.
In the United States, local and Federal governments have shared the job of enforcing criminal law. However, local governments dominated while the Federal Government served as a backstop. When terrorist attacks occur, it was assumed that the FBI’s role in fighting terrorism would be primary, powerfully affecting local police departments. Shifting power to the FBI was viewed as making law enforcement less accountable and more prone to misconduct. However, the change in the Federal-local allocation of power during antiterrorism work could increase the level of law enforcement accountability and responsibility as opposed to lowering it. This essay described the advantages and disadvantages of local and Federal police in terms of preventing police misconduct and discussed the nature and features of antiterrorism work. Focusing attention on who performs a given police task is seen as having a significant effect on how the task is performed. There are advantages and disadvantages for both local police and Federal agents. In the fight against terrorism it is necessary to pay attention to the differences when allocating large tasks. With the fight against domestic terrorism, Federal law enforcement is able to pursue cases for wrong reasons and be more attentive to the public’s needs and concerns, creating a potentially better Federal law enforcement.