Late last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that authorities in Oregon failed to deploy hundreds of thousands of dollars in safety equipment to the scene of a reported bomb that eventually exploded killing two police officers. The Oregon State Police has used federal homeland security grants since 2001 to purchase an ordinance-detection vehicle, two pricey bomb robots and more.
Now the Associated Press and others are reporting that federal law enforcement agencies quarreled over who would get to investigate the tragedy, one of several such incidents that threaten to undermine coordinated anti-terrorism and bomb-suppression efforts.
The AP obtained a draft report on Sept. 15 from the U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general who found that for years agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives competed to reach crime scenes first, refused to exchange information through a joint database and maintained separate facilities for training and forensics.
In another November 2007 incident, according to the AP, the two agencies argued with one another in front of local police over whether the discovery of a pipe bomb in Arizona had a connection to terrorism, a case detail needed to trigger FBI jurisdiction.
According to the AP:
So-called “battles of the badges” between different law enforcement agencies are nothing new, but the ill will between FBI and ATF dates back decades and has survived the 2002 transfer of ATF from the Treasury Department to Justice. Some had thought putting the agencies in the same department might end the feud, but the Justice Department has spent years trying to get the two sides to cooperate.
After the explosion in Woodburn, Ore., a local prosecutor asked for assistance from the ATF, but the FBI protested.
In addition, a spokesman for the state police told CIR at the time of the bombing that his department was unsure why a 28-foot long, $170,000 ordinance-detection vehicle had not been sent to the scene. He said local officials would be requesting help from the federal government to determine what went wrong.
Earlier this month, county prosecutors in Oregon announced that they would be pursuing the death penalty for a father and son allegedly involved in the explosion. Police claim to have connected the pair to a bank branch in Woodburn where the bomb was planted.
According to published reports, a bomb expert with the state police began prying into the device believing it was bogus when it detonated. He was killed along with another officer, while a third was severely injured. Officers involved in responding to the incident were also honored this month.
State records obtained by CIR show that in recent years, the Oregon State Police spent $427,000 on two bomb robots, $265,000 on an armored SWAT truck and $334,000 on more general equipment designed to defeat explosive devices. Other police and fire departments in the region have spent hundreds of thousands more in federal grants for their own ballistics gear, records show.