The Joint Regional Intelligence Center, the first such center in the nation, opened its doors Thursday to help more than 200 law enforcement agencies coordinate their efforts to prevent terrorist attacks.
More than 30 intelligence analysts from the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and other agencies are already working out of the Norwalk facility. Eventually there will be about 60 staffers at the center.
Inside the slick "CSI"-esque center, news headlines, biographies of suspects and maps flashed on large-screen projectors, televisions and computers.
"No place in America is going to be better prepared to fight external and internal terrorist threats," Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton said at the opening, which was attended by representatives of the FBI, state and federal departments of Homeland Security, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
"This is truly a partnership that has come together at just the right time," Bratton said.
The center will serve as a hub for information gathering, analysis and sharing among federal, state and local law enforcement officials and safety agencies.
The aim of the effort is preventing terrorist attacks and combating violent crime in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.
Bratton acknowledged, however, that some areas in that 40,000 square miles -- home to 18 million people -- will take priority in service.
"In this area of the country, we have some of the top terrorist targets, such as LAX and the Port of Long Beach," he said. The center also will pay special attention to "home-grown terrorism," he said.
The center will enable law enforcement officials to share their once-separate databases, sit next to each other in low-rise cubicles -- meant to encourage discussion -- and receive training in subjects beyond their agency's usual specialties.
A team of investigators known as the Threat Squad will be located at the center. The squad, made up of FBI, LAPD, Sheriff's Department and other officials, will respond to leads and reports of suspicious activity linked to terrorism throughout the region.
The opening came on the same day that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced its plan to send an unspecified number of its personnel to four fusion centers -- the name given to state and local hubs where officials coordinate their anti-terrorism efforts.
They include the new regional center in Los Angeles, as well as facilities in New York City; Reisterstown, Md; and Baton Rouge, La.
"We're going to tailor the personnel that we send, so that if it's an area that's very high risk, such as New York and Los Angeles, we might be heavier on the intelligence side," said Russ Knocke, a federal Homeland Security spokesman, in a telephone interview.
State and local authorities have created 38 fusion centers around the country, with Los Angeles' being the first regional one.
To date, the federal Department of Homeland Security has provided more than $380 million to state and local governments for the facilities and expects to have teams in major centers by the end of fiscal 2008.
The Norwalk center is groundbreaking because it is the first to house multiple agencies in one facility, said Willie T. Hulon, executive assistant director of the FBI. That makes it a national model for terrorism prevention, he said.
In 2004, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Office of Homeland Security earmarked $10 million to create one state and four regional terrorism threat assessment centers. By the end of this year, the Norwalk center will receive $4 million, said Matthew Bettenhausen, head of the state Office of Homeland Security.
Federal officials have long praised what they have described as a seamless relationship between the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement.
But Los Angeles officials have told a different story.
This year, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa publicly complained that federal officials didn't give him an in-depth briefing before President Bush detailed a terrorist threat on the US Bank Tower in downtown Los Angeles.
In a similar vein, big-city police chiefs have expressed frustration with what they said was a lack of communication by the federal agency about possible terrorism-related intelligence. And they questioned the quality of the intelligence received.
As Bratton once said, it is not so much that "they don't share intelligence as they don't have intelligence."
Such frustrations gave way Thursday to a new sense of confidence, as displayed by Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley.
Said Cooley: "9/11 could have been prevented if we had had something like this in place."