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Published: Monday, 2/27/2006

Personnel shortage leaves Toledo, UT as part-time players

BY CHRISTINA HALL
BLADE STAFF WRITER

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales thanked the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Toledo for their work in an investigation that led to the recent indictment of three local men on charges that they planned terrorist plots.

But what is the task force, and why aren't two law enforcement agencies in Toledo - Toledo police and the University of Toledo police - represented in the group on a full-time basis anymore?

A lack of manpower has been the reason, officials said.

"The first line of defense for police is the community and the calls they receive. We are sensitive to that," said Carl Spicocchi, special agent in charge of the Toledo FBI office. "A lot of departments are so small, they have the interest, but not the manpower for full-time basis."

The Northwest Ohio Joint Terrorism Task Force is comprised of full-time, part-time, and liaison members of local, state, and federal agencies. There are at least 100 task forces in cities across the country, with 65 - including the one in Toledo - created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Forming the northwest Ohio task force was discussed by the Toledo FBI and Toledo police just days before the

9/11 attacks. Cleveland already had a task force, but the 2001 attacks expedited the Toledo-area group's formation, which was officially recognized by FBI headquarters in February, 2002, Mr. Spicocchi said.

Four years later, the Toledo-area task force is credited, along with the FBI and U.S. Secret Service, with investigating Mohammad Zaki Amawi, Marwan Othman El-Hindi, and Wassim I. Mazloum in an alleged plot to build bombs and assist insurgent attacks in Iraq. On its Web site, the FBI said its Joint Terrorism Task Forces - the first was created in 1980 in New York City - were instrumental in breaking up cells such as the Portland Seven, the Lackawanna Six, and the Northern Virginia Jihad.

Toledo Assistant Police Chief Mike Navarre - who was chief when the task force formed - said when a city police detective assigned to the task force left, her position was not filled. Another city police detective previously worked with the task force in addition to investigating computer crimes with an FBI agent. The FBI agent was later transferred to Cincinnati, and the city police detective returned to the police department, and his task force spot was not filled.

"Our numbers were dwindling, and we did not want to pull another person off the street," Chief Navarre said. "Once a police class was hired, it was our intent to put officers back on the task force. ...We had an urban city to protect."

But the police class was canceled, he said, and the city nearly laid off officers when leaders claimed a budget deficit.

Even though Toledo police didn't have full-time representation on the task force last year, Chief Navarre said his agency continued to attend the group's meetings, now held bimonthly. He also was briefed on its activities on a number of occasions and said he was personally briefed by the FBI numerous times on the terror plot investigation. That investigation, Mr. Spicocchi said, drew assistance from agents in FBI field offices throughout the country.

Mr. Spicocchi said he understands why Toledo police didn't fill its full-time spot. But he said they were kept up to speed and that Chief Navarre and investigative services Capt. Ron Spann maintained their security clearances, which means they could be read into the classified portions of the cases. He said new Chief Jack Smith is in the process of getting that clearance.

"But we'd like to have a [Toledo] officer or detective back here because it is the host city," Mr. Spicocchi said. "A lot of the intelligence information comes out of this city."

Mr. Spicocchi said he talked with Chief Smith, whom he said was receptive to the idea. Chief Smith could not be reached for comment.

Dan Wagner, vice president of the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association, said the last city police detective on the task force left at the end of 2004.

"With the recent occurrence, I think the new administration in place should put officers back in those positions regardless of manpower issues," he said. "You need that direct link of information."

The University of Toledo police had a full-time officer on the task force for about a year after the group began. The department's K-9 officer also served part-time for a little more than a year and is called out when needed, Chief John Dauer said.

"We had to pull [the task force officers] back because we got busy," he said. "The university will always come first. It's not like you pulled [the officers] off and the Joint Terrorism Task Force went by the wayside. There was always an understanding, as with all jurisdictions, if the jurisdictions get busy, we have to pull people back because our jurisdictions are first and foremost."

Chief Dauer said his force has 26 officers, including himself. The majority are assigned to field operations or the detective bureau. The chief said his department hasn't thought about returning officers to the task force, but he may consider it in the future. He said his officers are "pretty much staying busy with cases we have on campus."

Six of the 28 agencies on the task force have full-time representatives. The rest have part-time representatives or liaisons. Some come from as far as Clyde and Lima. Other agencies also want to join. Task force members - particularly full-time "detailees" - are assigned cases just like FBI agents, Mr. Spicocchi said.

"They are treated no different than agents who work counter-terrorism cases," he said.

Mr. Spicocchi declined to say how many leads and cases the task force has, saying most are classified. But, he said, the group's members are "always busy" following up on leads and tips, gathering intelligence, executing search warrants, conducting surveillance, and making arrests. Their work primarily focuses on domestic and international terrorism. The force covers 19 counties in northwest Ohio and has responded to incidents ranging from "white powder" scares to a suspected explosive device on a TARTA bus.

"[The task force] is probably the best vehicle we have to share information on a day-to-day basis," Mr. Spicocchi said, adding that intelligence bulletins are generated and shared with the group's members.

Contact Christina Hall at: chall@theblade.com or 419-724-6007.



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