Local law enforcement vigilant in aftermath of Boston attacks

No known threats involving Southern Nevada have been uncovered in the wake of the deadly Boston Marathon attack, which put law enforcement authorities on high alert across the nation, Las Vegas police officials said.

Still, during a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Metropolitan Police Department Deputy Chief Jim Owens said people on the Strip can count on a more visible presence in the coming days. The department has been in frequent contact with nearly 20 police agencies gathering intelligence.

“Nobody has the day off,” Owens said.

Owens’ staff members have been in direct contact with federal officials monitoring developments in Massachusetts. Anti-terrorism intelligence operatives also routinely work out of the Southern Nevada Counterterrorism Center near McCarran International Airport, gathering and sharing information with other law enforcement agencies, he said.

That counterterrorism or fusion center concept, which was developed by the federal government after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, is grounded in the idea that information flow between police agencies is critical to stopping terrorism.

While the counterterrorism center continues to operate well, Dr. Dale Carrison, former head of the Nevada Homeland Security Commission, said Tuesday that Nevadans cannot afford to be complacent.

Carrison and the police urge anyone who has information or sees suspicious activity that might be connected to a terrorist threat to call the 24-hour line at the counterterrorism center: 702-828-7777.

Carrison said repeated cuts in federal funding for the state’s anti-terrorism programs –– in 2004 the state received $36 million compared with $4.3 million last year –– make it more difficult for authorities to assess threats and to act in a coordinated fashion.

“How anti-terrorism funds have been distributed to Las Vegas has never made sense,” said Carrison, who left his commission post in 2011. “And it sure doesn’t make any more now when we’ve been reminded by Boston that the terrorism threat remains real. We have to remain vigilant.”

Federal funding cuts

Last year, with federal Homeland Security funds to Nevada cut 60 percent from 2011’s $10.8 million, the state’s Homeland Security Commission, now led by Gov. Brian Sandoval, eliminated six projects, including the Silver Shield programs designed to protect critical infrastructure, from water systems to government operations to the Hoover Dam.

Carrison said the lack of funding for Nevada, and particularly Las Vegas, isn’t based in reality, particularly when former federal Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said in 2004 that Las Vegas was one of the nation’s top five targets for terrorism because it constantly attracts so many people from all over the world.

Carrison noted that individuals involved with the 9/11 attacks had been in Las Vegas, with videotape showing them at multiple locations. In 2003, intelligence gathered from terrorist chatter about the possible threat of chemical and biological substances had armed federal agents on the ground and patrolling over the Strip in Blackhawk helicopters.

“Here we have 20 of the world’s largest hotels, more than New York City, and have 45 million visitors a year, and we’re getting reduced to almost nothing,” Carrison said. “I think we need at least
$20 million a year in security funding. We would use it wisely.”

POLITICS IN FUNDING?

Carrison said that Dr. John Middaugh of the Southern Nevada Health District used Homeland Security funds to devise a computer program that allows authorities to quickly detect bioterrorism “clusters of sick patients” who arrive at hospitals and clinics in Las Vegas.

“The CDC thought so much of it that they think it should be used around the country,” he said. “It can save lives.”

Nevada’s repeated cuts come as New York City’s biggest Homeland Security grant held steady for a third year –– at about $151 million –– with the Big Apple now receiving 30 percent of the Federal Urban Area Security Initiative’s total funding.

“It’s all so political,” Carrison said, arguing that instead of being considered as a Tier 2 area with cities that include Detroit and Toledo when it comes to security funding, Las Vegas should join Tier 1 metropolitan areas receiving larger allocations: Los Angeles/Long Beach, San Francisco Bay, the National Capital Region, Chicago, Boston, Jersey City/Newark, New York City, Philadelphia, Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington.

“There are people in Congress who hate us because we’re supposedly ‘Sin City,’ ” Carrison said.

Carrison also believes that economic impact isn’t assessed correctly in evaluating Nevada’s status for security funding.

“Some people think that if Las Vegas were to be destroyed there wouldn’t be a big impact, that it would only affect the people here,” he said.

“And that’s just wrong. Our hotels buy hundreds of millions of dollars in beef, seafood, vegetables, beer and wine and alcohol every year. Don’t you think it’s going to have a huge impact on those businesses? Sure it is.”

Contact reporter Paul Harasim at pharasim@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2908.

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