Terrorism prevention is (also) carried out by the local police

Intelligence and public security information activities need to be even more integrated. The theatre of operations now makes the involvement of the local police in the gathering of information to prevent crimes and terrorism. A comment by Andrea Monti, Adjunct  Professor of Law of Order and Public Security, University of Chieti-Pescara – Initially published in Italian by Formiche.net

The beheading of the French teacher “sanctioned” as punishment for having shown Charlie Hebdo’s “blasphemous cartoons” in class once again raises the issue of the limit beyond which to exercise the right to freedom of expression, implies forcing the State and citizens to bear the consequences of an individual choice (in this case, that of the editors of the satirical magazine).


However, as already pointed out on Formiche.net, this is not a “simple” contrast between the freedom of thought and (self)censorship. Going down, in fact, from the empyrean of principles to the pragmatism of reality, one realises that the choices á la Charlie Hebdo not only jeopardise national security but also – and above all – public security. Moreover, they show, once again, that these two aspects, can no longer be separated.

The French one is a good case study for some reflections on the current Italian condition of the relationship between the protection of national security and police prevention.


To date, the exchange of information between intelligence and law enforcement sectors does not always proceed smoothly. The intelligence agencies’ members indeed come from the ranks of the police forces and the Military, but it is also true that when they switch role, they lose their status of origin and operate, rightly so,  under a  different logic from that of their previous life. In other words: certain information are not necessarily shared with the local law enforcement’s branches. At the same time, the activities of territorial surveillance by the police forces do not always produce information useful to the intelligence structures. This situation translates into a less effective collection of information for preventive purposes.

At the same time, the response to terrorist attacks belongs to first responder units (Api-Sos, Uopi, Atpi) which, however, do not have sufficient capillarity to guarantee timely intervention in geographically decentralised contexts. Moreover, they are not necessarily involved in everyday crime events.


These issues leave a gap that can only be filled – although the prospect may cause some perplexity – by local police forces. The increasing attribution of public security powers to the local police, although not always consistent with the law, has made it a structural component of the control system of the territory also for information gathering.

As the public policy choices aim at a further decentralisation of the public security functions towards local authorities, a necessary consequence would be the training of the members’ operational and reconnaissance skills.

It would be unthinkable to transform local police structures into SWAT or intelligence structures. At the same time, however, and without having to issue ad hoc laws, it would not be impossible to think of the adoption of training protocols that would transfer the necessary skills to the operatives, to improve early detection of potential criticalities and secondly, better integration with the specialised departments of the police forces.


The loss of the centrality of large urban aggregates as a preferred target for terrorist organisations implies the growing possibility that individuals (although equipped with at least a logistical support network) are facilitated in their criminal projects by the increased reaction time of the police forces and their special units.

The local police represent a reserve of force which, if properly trained, could contribute both to prevention activities, through a widespread information activity made possible by the daily presence on the territory, and to the containment of violent actions, waiting for the arrival of the specialised departments.

It is not necessary to issue new laws, since the current regulatory framework would already allow a significant increase in the operational capacity of the local police.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *