Reno Chief Wants Terrorism Research

Homeland Readiness
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Federal spending on training and equipment for local police to combat terrorism is undermined by a lack of research into the way terrorists think and act, Reno Police Chief Jerry Hoover said.

Hoover and other officers said at a public meeting Tuesday night Reno is "absolutely" safer from terrorists thanks to two years of increased attention and preparedness since the Sept. 11 attacks.

"There's been a lot of training, a lot of money distributed by the federal government," Hoover said, about $2.25 million to the Washoe County, Reno-Sparks area.

Most of it has been spent on training, equipment and overtime, he said.

"Very little of it has been used for research. One of my issues is that until we know what exactly we are up against - how do we train and buy equipment when we don't know what we're up against?" he asked.

Reno police and other law enforcement agencies have taken initial steps to reduce the community's vulnerability to terrorist attacks, Hoover said.

"But there's going to be a point where we need to know a lot more than we do now," he said.

Some private institutions have launched research in the area, "but the government has not done a lot," Hoover said.

Over the past three decades, there has been a shift internationally from political terrorism aimed at bringing about political change with minimal loss of life to more frequent religious terrorism aimed at destroying an enemy.

"They want a body count," Hoover said.

"I'd like to see research into the motivations of various terrorist groups," he said in an interview after the presentation to about 20 people Tuesday night at the Regional Public Safety Training Center in Reno.

"What motivates them? How are they structured? What are their tactics?" he said.

"We in local law enforcement have a military structure. Terrorists seem to have a `netwar' strategy, which means they've got cells all over. All the cells communicate but there is no real leader.

"They may give instructions, but then they act when they want to, maybe three months later or a year later," Hoover said.

"We are structured to try to fight groups that are not structured the same way we are."

Hoover, who has a masters degree in public administration from Harvard University, was a police commander in Boulder, Colo., and St. Joseph, Mo., before he became chief in Reno in 1997. He pointed to research by Jessica Stern at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, who emphasizes the importance of live terrorists as intelligence assets.

"She has interviewed terrorists. That's the kind of thing the government should be doing," he said.