FBI agent shortage hurting local cops
Local law-enforcement officials told Sen. Patty Murray Wednesday that a shortage of FBI agents in Washington state is making it harder to...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Local law-enforcement officials told Sen. Patty Murray Wednesday that a shortage of FBI agents in Washington state is making it harder to investigate, solve and prosecute the growing number of cybercrimes they're seeing in the Puget Sound region.
Identity thieves, online sexual predators, credit-card fraudsters and increasingly mobile and technologically savvy West Coast car-theft gangs are all problems that city police agencies, county sheriff's departments and even the State Patrol cannot get ahead of without more federal help, Murray was told.
"The federal government has cut resources," said Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor. "We're working our heads off and our hearts out" on border-less, Internet-based crimes. "Applying those approaches can be difficult, especially when there are no resources."
Murray, D-Wash., who called Wednesday's round-table discussion, told the officials that she is working to increase federal spending in order to get FBI staffing levels for nonterrorist crimes back up to where they were before Sept. 11.
According to Murray, 2,400 agents nationwide were moved from traditional FBI crime-fighting areas — such as bank fraud — to counterterrorism efforts after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and those levels were never replenished.
In a letter in September to FBI Director Robert Mueller, Murray wrote that Washington state has only slightly more than two agents per 100,000 people — about 133 agents total — and is 35th among the states in FBI agents per capita.
She said Wednesday that she would push her colleagues in Congress to appropriate additional dollars, though she didn't specify how many, to fill the hole. Murray pushed late last year for a study commissioned by Congress to determine how FBI agents are deployed around the country. The results are expected in mid-February.
"The [FBI] has lost its ability to take a leadership role with very complex white-collar crime investigations," Gale Evans, deputy chief of the Port of Seattle police and a former FBI agent, told Murray.
Evans said the 30-member Seattle FBI team is down 18 people, and that new staff planned for this year is already earmarked for anti-terrorism work. "Terrorism is significant," he said. "But we also have [other] crimes that affect us."
Richard McCrea, Tacoma's assistant police chief, said that the help local agencies do receive from the FBI is excellent, such as with the July 4 abduction and slaying of 12-year-old Zina Linnik of Tacoma. But the support is not enough to pursue all the technology, fraud and Internet-based crimes that local departments are faced with, he said.
"Cybercrime, identity theft, mail theft, credit-card scams," and these crimes go across state lines and around the world, McCrea said.
"They're languishing," Kate Pflaumer, former U.S. attorney for Western Washington, said of white-collar criminal cases among local police agencies. "We have a crisis."
Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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