How much conflict is there between local police and FBI?
June 26, 2009 6:21 PM   Subscribe

How much conflict is there between local police and FBI?

You've seen it in a million movies: the police are investigating a case. Then the FBI comes in, and there's massive conflict and ill-will between the two groups.

How often, though, is this actually the case?

Obviously, there are no statistics, but for anyone who has worked with the FBI on a case, or who has actually worked for the FBI (or has relatives/friends in those situations), what was the dynamic between the two groups?
posted by Bugbread to Law & Government (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not now, nor have I ever been in the FBI, but I do work in US Federal law enforcement. Every time I have spoken to local law enforcement on the city, county, or state level I have been given nothing but respect, support, and prompt assistance. In return I have always been curteous, respectful, grateful, and careful never to overstep my bounds or over reach my jurisdiction. I can't really think of any situation that my colleagues and I have gotten into where this has not been the case. I believe things do get a little wishy-washy on the Justice Department attorney level where Feds and States vie for (or to avoid) venue and jurisdiction, but on the investigative level I've never seen conflicts.

Now, between Federal agencies is a different story. So if the FBI treats locals like they do ATF or ICE or FPS, etc I can see the movie scenario becoming reality. (frankly, I'm pretty certain ICE, ATF, FPS, etc. give as much as they receive from FBI, so no finger pointing here)
posted by Pollomacho at 7:09 PM on June 26, 2009

My best friend the ICE agent says his team and the local police were usually on parallel tracks -- they each had their spheres of interest, so to speak. Where they usually interacted was when warrants were being served, and the local police provided back-up. They weren't buddy-buddy, but they weren't rivals, either.

However, my friend says he regularly "flashes the badge" and never, ever gets a speeding ticket. The lucky bastard.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:36 PM on June 26, 2009

My husband is an officer in a small town police department. They rarely have occasion to work with the FBI, but when they do there's never been a conflict or ill-will. Mostly it's been a mutual "thanks for your help" kind of thing.

The local police have been surprised at how disorganized and caught up in red tape the feds seem to be, though. But don't tell them I said that.
posted by amyms at 8:11 PM on June 26, 2009

I would think the answer to this question depends on where it is being asked and how big the activity in which the law enforcement agencies are involved is.

In the aftermath of 9/11, there was a lot of jockeying for position among the various law enforcement agencies (NYPD, FBI, etc.) for handling ground zero and assorted other activities.
posted by dfriedman at 5:30 AM on June 27, 2009

For what it's worth, there really is beef between the firefighters and the cops, though...
posted by ph00dz at 5:49 AM on June 27, 2009

Pollomacho mentioned friction between local and federal prosecutors. What you don't often see in movies (but happens all the time) is when local prosecutors want feds to prosecute the case. Local asking and federal turning them down happens more than feds coming in and taking over a case. (Local will want fed to prosecute because they won't have the resources themselves to prosecute a case but still want someone to do it.)
posted by lockestockbarrel at 7:22 AM on June 27, 2009

For what it's worth, there really is beef between the firefighters and the cops, though...
posted by ph00dz at 8:49 AM on June 27 [+] [!]

Can you elaborate on this ph00dz. This has sparked my interested as it's something I've never heard about.
posted by FusiveResonance at 8:14 AM on June 27, 2009

My experience is that the locals are usually very happy to get the investigative manpower as quickly as possible.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:27 AM on June 27, 2009

My grandfather was a firefighter, and I remember witnessing some (more or less) good-natured ball busting between the police and firefighters. The TV show Rescue Me dramatized a rather more violent rivalry between the police and firefighters in NY.
posted by paulg at 12:57 PM on June 27, 2009

For what it's worth, there really is beef between the firefighters and the cops

Have you ever been involved in a conflict or authority issue with police during an emergency response?
I have been personally involved: 35% (1564)
I have witnessed a conflict between fire and police authorities: 21% (927)
My department has had involved in a conflict, but I was not present: 13% (586)
I have not been involved in such an incident: 31% (1351)

posted by dhartung at 1:41 PM on June 27, 2009

Just some end-of-thread, back-of-the-envelope thoughts:

On a broad level, I think there have historically been divisions between different law enforcement agencies. For instance, our recently departed police chief was in awe, based on his prior career in another state, of how well our city police and county sheriff's deputies cooperated, with mutual swearing-in allowing them to substitute for each other in emergencies and ongoing cooperative committees and equipment sharing arrangements. Obviously this is not unheard of but neither is it commonplace. Probably a generation ago, before a lot of federal money kicked in for primarily drug-war-related task forces, it was a bigger problem.

The Chicago-area Brown's Chicken massacre[pdf]^ investigation showed that multiple local police agencies had little to no experience working together. It eventually took the independent Chicago Crime Commission, a watchdog agency dating to the Capone era, to establish successful inter-suburban task forces.

There are probably issues that anyone could point to such as the historic corruption that was endemic to major-city police, and probably is still widespread if kept in check. Thus the Feds would naturally distrust local cops and worry about multi-year investigations of the Gottis or whomever being disrupted by minor local shake-ups. But the 1980s in particular saw the deliberate appropriation of federal agencies and monies toward asssistance functions, such as the Vice President's Task Force on South Florida (1982) and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, and one can imagine that instilled a more harmonious era, even while creating new areas of potential conflict. There was definitely discussion at the time about the wisdom of changing the balance between local and federal criminal enforcement. While throwing more resources at a growing problem, these initiatives also had a tendency to "federalize" more investigations in a macro sense, and in the aggregate could have tipped investigations away from cops who were counting on them to make their careers.

But for the most part, it's probably just by-the-book storytelling -- insert conflict from Column A -- with many cookie-cutter cop movies borrowing liberally from their betters, resulting in all of them looking pretty much the same.
posted by dhartung at 2:37 PM on June 27, 2009

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