Pubdate: Wed, 05 Jun 2002
Source: Courier-Journal, The (KY)
Copyright: 2002 The Courier-Journal
Author: Chris Kenning


The FBI's focus on preventing terrorism may force some Kentucky police 
agencies to shoulder a heavier burden in the fight against drugs and 
violent crime, officials said yesterday.

The Kentucky FBI isn't abandoning its crime-solving mission, but it will 
become more selective in taking on bank robberies, drug cases and 
whitecollar crime under a federal initiative that makes preventing 
terrorism the agency's highest priority.

Law enforcement officials will get less help from an agency that brings 
expertise, national intelligence, financial support, high-tech tools, 
federal wiretap abilities and help getting prosecutors to apply federal 
charges with stiffer penalties.

"It's a sea change for what we do," said J. Stephen Tidwell, special agent 
in charge of Kentucky, who started work in the position last month. "We'll 
have to direct resources to make that happen."

Details are still being ironed out, but the FBI's thresholds for taking 
cases will likely be raised -- in the past, when the FBI might have helped 
tackle two groups running 50 kilos of drugs a day, Tidwell said, they will 
now target only one. And bank robberies or wire-fraud cases will require 
higher dollar amounts to trigger investigations.

The cases will likely fall to a number of local, state and federal 
agencies, said Steve Pence, U.S. attorney for Western Kentucky.

The Kentucky FBI has fewer than 100 agents, but officials won't get 
specific about how many may be shifting from crime to terrorism duties. 
Tidwell expects to know within a month how many new agents or how much 
additional funding the Kentucky's FBI operation could receive when Congress 
approves bureau director Robert Mueller's plan to focus more agents on 

In Indiana, police expect to pick up some of the slack as FBI agents get 
reassigned, but, like Kentucky officers and prosecutors, most do not expect 
the changes to significantly weaken law enforcement.

Special Agent Doug Garrison of the FBI's Indianapolis Division said the 
agency won't have to reassign a large number of agents. Officials said 
local authorities will still have access to FBI databases and tools, such 
as a device for enhancing bank surveillance photos.

"There's still going to be enough manpower there with the FBI that we'll be 
able to work together," said John Buncich, sheriff of Lake County in 
Northern Indiana. "The cooperative resources are still going to be there."

But some worry about the reduction of FBI expertise.

Louisville police regularly tap the FBI for help with cases ranging from 
murder to bank robberies. The agency's help was critical in last month's 
capture of John T. Boston in Dallas, who was extradited to Kentucky on rape 
charges, said Capt. Steve Thompson, who heads the department's criminal 
investigations unit.

"They've always been there when we needed them," he said. "We'll just have 
to adjust."

In Eastern Kentucky, the FBI devoted much of its time to fighting drugs. 
According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research 
center at Syracuse University, 42 percent of the 145 FBI-led cases that 
resulted in convictions in 1998 were drug-related.

The Kentucky State Police have already seen Eastern Kentucky drug caseloads 
increase in part because the FBI was already beginning to refocus on 
terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks, said Lt. Lisa Rudzinski, a state 
police spokeswoman.

Some smaller Kentucky police departments say the FBI's help can be important.

The change in focus by the FBI "probably will have some impact," said Lee 
County Sheriff Harvey Pelfrey, adding that other agencies -- such as the 
state police or Drug Enforcement Administration -- may be able to fill any 

DEA officials have pledged to help fill gaps in drug investigations. 
Investigators in the Louisville office could not be reached.

Another possible effect of the reforms: As more cases are handled by local 
authorities, a greater number could wind up before local or state 
prosecutors -- instead of being shepherded by the FBI to federal 
prosecutors who can apply charges that can carry stiffer penalties.

Local police and prosecutors can ask the U.S. attorney's office to take 
cases. But Thompson, the Louisville police captain, said working with the 
FBI often can give such requests more sway.

The FBI is counted as the lead agency on about 30 percent of the cases that 
come to the U.S. attorney's office, Pence said.

But Pence doesn't think the change will lead to a falling caseload or a 
drop in cases involving guns or drugs. Instead, he predicted that they 
would simply spread out among a wider array of state and federal 
investigative agencies.

"The FBI is a key player in law enforcement, but there are other key 
players," he said.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jeff Derouen said the small number that 
may fall to state prosecutors wouldn't significantly increase the caseload 
of his office, which handles 3,000 cases a year.

Tidwell points out that while the FBI's priorities are now topped by 
terrorism prevention and counterintelligence, they also include many of its 
traditional targets. In descending order, they are: cyberand high-tech 
crime, public corruption, civil rights, national and transnational crime, 
white-collar crime and significant violent crime.
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