Are Federal Law Enforcement Task Forces Good or Bad for Campus Police Departments?

Here are the pros and cons of participating in a task force, as well as three best practices to consider if an officer from your hospital, school or university police department becomes a member.

Be Aware of These Disadvantages
At the same time, there are also some downsides to participating on a federal task force:

  • Federal Prosecution: Federal prosecutors are often reluctant to prosecute hospital, school or university cases. This reluctance is due to many of these cases not being “sexy” enough to warrant federal attention or federal minimum quantities for narcotics.
  • Manpower: Detectives assigned to the task force will not be available to work cases in your jurisdiction. Their absence will place greater burden on your existing detectives. Further, an administration’s perception that a campus department has enough assets to support the Feds will undermine that department’s requests for additional manpower.
  • Jurisdiction: Federal task force members may not address the crimes occ
    urring in a college’s jurisdiction

  • Supervision: An agency’s supervisors will lose control of detectives participating in a task force
  • Agency protocols: Task force officers may operate with different protocols governing investigations or tactics that are not approved by their home agency
  • Morale problems: It is possible that other members of your agency who are not on the task force will view their colleague as a prima donna; no longer one of them

Follow These 3 Best Practices
If a college department considers participating in a federal task force, it will do well to keep these recommendations in mind:

1. Ensure you have a clear understanding of task force objectives, what types of criminal activity it will be addressing and the task force’s duration. The objectives may not be a priority for your agency and the crimes may not be an issue on your campus. Consider, for instance, a human trafficking task force. Such groups are looking for detectives to augment their units due to their enormous caseloads. However, human trafficking may not exist in your jurisdiction or the problem me be so insignificant it doesn’t justify taking manpower away from other priorities. 

2. Know your agency’s expected commitment regarding manpower, hours, equipment, travel out of the area and travel expenses. These can vary greatly between task forces. Some only require a detective to assist on cases that are significant and require additional manpower for a short period of time, such as a serial bank robber case. Others require the detectives to report to the task force office every day and work on federal cases only. In this latter circumstance, a department loses an officer to work campus issues. 

3. Sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). A general hand shake leads to misunderstandings and no legal recourse for disputes over re-imbursements of expenses and overtime, seizure percentages, and opting out of the Task force. 

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It is mutually beneficial for campus and district police departments and federal law enforcement agencies to share intelligence and collaborate to combat crimes that affect college campuses. Task force membership is attractive, but not without significant potential costs. An additional avenue that a campus or district department may wish to consider is cultivating a relationship with specific task force members. The intelligence you may be able to provide will be welcomed by the task force, and your agency will be in a good positon to share training and possibly reap some benefits (at no charge) to task force law enforcement operations of direct benefit to your campus.

Lt. David Smith currently serves in the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Police Department as a district commander. Before joining NOVA, he worked over 26 years in the Fairfax County Police Department. During those years, he was deputized as a federal agent for the FBI, DEA, ICE and a special agent for the ATF in a supervisory capacity. He worked on several federal task forces including the Northern Virginia Violent Crimes Task Force.  He can be reached at drsmith@nvcc.edu.

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