Sheriff takes on national role in war on terrorism |

Sheriff takes on national role in war on terrorism

Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri’s appointment last week to the National Sheriff’s Committee for Domestic Preparedness and Weapons of Mass Destruction won’t be a quick fix for the lack of communication between federal and local law enforcement agencies.

But it has created a two-way pipeline between the two that allows concerns to be voiced and heard, Dalessandri said.

“After 9-11, I, like a number of police chiefs and sheriffs, became pretty frustrated with the lack of information out of the federal government,” he said. “We learned most of our information just like everyone else, from CNN.”

Local law enforcement was placed on highest alert, “but no one knew what would happen next,” he said.

After Sept. 11, Dalessandri wrote letters to President Bush, Homeland Security director Tom Ridge and FBI director Patrick Mueller expressing his frustration over the lack of information.

He urged them to be open with local law enforcement because these men and women would be the first responders in another terrorist attack.

In response, the regional FBI office in Denver invited Dalessandri to participate in meetings with federal agencies to work on communication.

Since February he has attended conferences on domestic terrorism and local preparedness. He met with Mark Mershon, FBI special agent in charge for the Denver division. He also attended a conference of sheriffs in Washington D.C. that featured an open discussion with Ridge.

Monday, he and other sheriffs met with Mueller in Denver to discuss improved communication between federal and local law enforcement agencies.

“The feds have realized that in order to be prepared nationally, they have to be prepared locally and they’re starting to throw money at us,” Dalessandri said.

Sept. 11 “was a tremendous wake-up call for the federal government and for all of us. We thought we were well prepared for isolated incidents,” he said. But after 9-11 it became apparent “we were not as well prepared as we should be.”

On a local level, law enforcement has tended to ignore the possibility of catastrophic incidents and is unprepared to deal with them, he said.

“The cost of preparedness is extreme. We had to ask ourselves, does the cost outweigh the benefit?” Dalessandri said. “Since 9-11 there is no cost too high.”

His primary aim now is to develop a county emergency plan that would use training offered by the federal government in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

He’s also confident his relationship with federal officials is more open, especially with the FBI.

“I have a better pipeline to the decision makers,” he said. “I got a very positive response from the FBI.”

The FBI recognizes it has a problem getting out information and has promised to improve, he said.

“That hasn’t happened before,” Dalessandri said.

“Right now the big thing is to develop a better understanding on what issues are important,” he said.

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