About a year ago, a police officer in Maryland noticed a truck loaded with plastic pallets driving down a main road in the early morning. He normally wouldn't have given it a second look, but the officer had seen a bulletin from the state's "coordination and analysis center" advising that such thefts were costing bakeries and grocers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Sure enough, the pallets were stolen.
Cracking down on pallet thieves wasn't quite the mission envisioned for "fusion centers," 72 facilities across the country that were started after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks to improve information-sharing and threat analysis among local law enforcement.
The centers, which have received $426 million in federal funding since 2004, were designed as an early warning system against the next attack. Lately, amid the recent uptick in homegrown plots, the Homeland Security Department has been touting fusion centers as a means of thwarting domestic terrorism.
But it turns out that homegrown terrorism pales in frequency and fatalities compared with typical street crime, so many of the centers have begun collecting and distributing criminal intelligence, even of the most mundane kind...