Developing a Law Enforcement Model for Countering Violent Extremism

Ever since the first police departments were formed in the 1800s, there has been continuous debate over the appropriate model of policing to address criminal behavior and activities. The criminal threat, combined with the demands of an ever changing society, drive this debate and dictate the desired model for law enforcement to pursue. In recent decades, the community-oriented policing model has become increasingly popular and many police forces have implemented elements of it into their procedures. Community oriented policing is believed by many to have the potential to deter some level of criminal behavior, prior to it ever happening. In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks and The Global War on Terror, intelligence-led policing has received strong levels of attention as many desire to see a more direct approach to addressing serious criminal threats. While debate rages on over the appropriate model for local law enforcement to use, it is worthwhile to question whether a hybrid model would be impactful. This is particularly true when assessing how to properly address and counter violent extremism, which has underlying issues that encompass an array of psychological, sociological, and criminological aspects.

To start the discussion, a brief explanation of both community-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing is required. Community oriented policing is a model of policing that emphasizes community problem solving through partnerships between the community and the local law enforcement agency. This usually is done in conjunction with a reorganization of the police force to diminish the barriers between the force and the local community.

Intelligence-led policing is based on both qualitative and quantitative data and intelligence, leading to directed police activities based on the evidence gathered. An example of this type of policing model would be to analyze data on burglaries in an area. Police can, with enough data collected, determine the time, days of the week, geographic tendencies, and method of entry used by the involved criminals. Forces can then make informed decisions and direct increased patrols during these times and in these areas in an effort to catch the criminals.

Countering violent extremism is related to countering terrorism, but is a distinct discipline. Countering violent extremism requires an understanding of the ideological, sociological, and psychological influences that lead individuals to develop extremist ideologies which leave them more likely to commit acts of violence.

By developing a comprehensive understanding of this process and the ideology itself, one can develop solutions to prevent the radicalization process, intervene in cases where the process has begun, or attempt to roll back the ideology of someone who has been radicalized. Punitive policing and criminal justice measures do little to prevent, intervene, or rehabilitate someone who has become radicalized or is vulnerable to radicalization; in fact, punitive approaches may make the situation worse.

Both models of policing mentioned above are accompanied by challenges unique to each one. For community oriented policing, law enforcement faces the struggle of a changing power dynamic as the community becomes increasingly involved. Further, especially when dealing with organized crime and even violent extremism, law enforcement must come to terms with working with former gang members or violent extremists in order to address the issues with the involved community.

In applying a hybrid policing model which blends community-oriented policing and intelligence-led policing, public perception is critical. On the surface of the model, the focus must be on community-oriented policing as this is critical to develop ties with communities, particularly those which are marginalized. The model must present itself as a grassroots movement whose priority is helping the community, not developing criminal cases to be prosecuted. Once established, relationships with the community will serve as the primary source of methods to prevent the radicalization process from ever starting. Those cases in which the process begins, it will likely be the community members who first become aware of the trend in the individual or group towards extremism. This will allow for proper intervention, preferably led by the community members but in conjunction with local law enforcement. Local law enforcement must not treat these individuals as terrorists, as this may further develop a sense of marginalization in the individual.

In cases that are further along in the radicalization process, these community relationships will also foster intelligence collection efforts for law enforcement. A community that feels valued and important is much more likely to provide information to local police services. Through this intelligence, police can direct strategies to monitor individuals or groups. These strategies must involve other applicable jurisdictions and there must be adequate dissemination of intelligence products to all agencies involved.

However, law enforcement should be careful during this process. Overt surveillance may lead the community as a whole to feel as if the police are working against them. Another area of concern is that once intelligence is developed about an individual or group, strict protocols must be implemented and followed to ensure complete privacy rights of the individual. Being labeled as a ‘terrorist’ before one is even confirmed to be an extremist may lead further marginalization and eventually to full-on extremism.

This hybrid model is meant to be implemented by state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. For this reason, it is highly dependent upon support from state policymakers who understand the strategy and support it to their utmost ability. While this discussion was a very simplistic and brief explanation of the reasoning for, and basic procedures of, this type of hybrid model, it serves as introductory post towards implementing this model of policing.

John Patrick Wilson is a Law Enforcement Professional and Research Fellow at Rise to Peace

John Wilson

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