Murders were rare in the city where I first began working. The agency whose uniform I wore had just one full-time detective. When a murder or other major criminal event occurred that required intense investigative effort, the solution was our regional Major Case Squad. Each agency in a multi-county region offered up one or two officers, creating a pop-up detective cadre that could process dozens of leads within a critical time period.
Interagency rivalry is real, but mostly comprised of good-natured ribbing and stereotyping. Conservation officers are ‘possum cops. State Troopers are tail light chasers. Deputies are cowboys. Campus cops aren’t “real” cops, and on it went. But when it came down to having coffee at the Country Kitchen after bar closing time or dealing with a threat to the community, everyone ignored the shape of their badge and shoulder patches and sang from the same sheet of music.
One of the historic interagency conflicts has been jurisdictional disputes between local and federal law enforcement. The stereotype of the “Feds” is of them horning in on a case and not only taking over with an air of superiority but taking all the credit as well. While this makes for good television scriptwriting, the reality is that multi-jurisdictional operations involving federal and local officers are common and fruitful.
My personal experience is illustrative. When running a small agency investigating a suspected child sex offender in the early days of the internet, I requested assistance from the FBI for digital evidence collection. A squad of technicians arrived and collected computer and paper evidence from the suspect’s home. The same pros that had worked on major cases such as the explosion of TWA flight 800 in 1996 enthusiastically and methodically processed evidence at a suspect’s trailer in a small town at my request.
When I was head of a campus police agency there was a series of thefts from the mailroom in the student center. A call to the U.S. Postal Inspectors launched an investigation that involved installing surveillance equipment and questioning a number of people. A search warrant was obtained and a suspect was arrested.
In another suspected case of academic fraud involving potential foreign abuse of student visas, I was able to refer the matter to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for investigation as a potential matter of national security.
I’ve had great cooperation from state agencies as well. Crime scenes that were too big for my agency personnel resulted in a call to the state – in my case the Colorado Bureau of Investigation – and their van and technicians swiftly rolled into town. In another case involving suspected financial fraud, the CBI offered their forensic accounting investigators to nail down the case that involved banking transactions across several states. In yet another case CBI assisted in a sexual assault investigation with several suspects who had consented to a polygraph examination and the state’s experts devoted their expertise, helping to clear the suspects.
Task forces involving multiple agencies and often funded largely by participants from federal law enforcement can address crimes that cross jurisdictional lines. Experience and research show that offenders are not always specialized in their crime of choice or by any geographic boundaries. Drug dealers often cross international borders and use both interstate highways and smaller state backroad routes. Scofflaws may be burglars who drive impaired with suspended driver’s licenses and hunt wildlife illegally. Sharing information among various elements of law enforcement is critical in finding and prosecuting the small number of offenders who commit a large percentage of crimes.
Law enforcement trainers and emergency managers know the importance of training across multiple agencies for mass casualty events. The school shooting in Uvalde, Texas had a horrific result due in part to the failure to coordinate the nearly 400 officers who responded from dozens of law enforcement agencies.
I never cared what color uniform showed up to help me or my officers, and I didn’t care who was calling for backup if my officers could help. We’ll keep our trash talk about other agencies, but that won’t keep any dedicated officer from hauling butt to help another.