Community Policing to Prevent Violent Extremism

Article excerpt

In August 2011, the White House released the important new document "Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States." This document outlines a broad, outreach-based strategy for reducing the threat of violent extremism. (1) Previous work, including the U.S. National Strategy for Counterterrorism and efforts by the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory Council's Preventing Violent Extremism Working Group and the joint U.S. Department of Justice--U.S. Department of Homeland Security Building Communities of Trust Initiative, supports this document. (2)


The White House document recognizes outreach and community-government relationships as key to successfully protecting the United States from an al Qaeda-inspired threat. The president's introduction to the strategy emphasizes its purpose as outlining "how the federal government will support and help empower American communities and their local partners in their grassroots efforts to prevent violent extremism," which includes "strengthening cooperation with local law enforcement who work with these communities every day." (3) Supported by tactics that closely follow the philosophy of community policing, government-community partnerships represent a vital facet of countering violent extremism.


Law enforcement agencies in the United Kingdom recognize this feature of counterterrorism because it closely mirrors the Prevent portion of their national counterterrorism strategy. Representing an integral part of the overall mission to fight violent extremism, Prevent, in existence since 2007, is the aspect that uses government, police, and community resources to keep people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. (4) It incorporates a community-centered approach that heavily emphasizes local action and, while not without controversy, spurs law enforcement in the United Kingdom to remain on the cutting edge of counterterrorism tactics. This strategy strives to harness the potential of community policing and is the source of many successful programs across the United Kingdom. In the past, agencies have used community policing to tackle other criminal challenges. Police in the United Kingdom have employed this philosophy for years to affect the danger posed by terrorism.

The core goal of the new U.S. strategy is "to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from inspiring, radicalizing, financing, or recruiting individuals or groups in the United States to commit acts of violence." (5) This initiative, at least in its core focus, closely emulates the goal of Prevent.

Because of their long history of dealing with terrorism, United Kingdom law enforcement agencies' work with counterterrorism offers a valuable lesson for U.S. law enforcement personnel. British researchers have expended considerable effort reviewing the application of Prevent and similar strategies. (6) Even though Prevent has been applied, debated, and modified for several years, the application of it does not necessarily reveal a perfect fit for the United States. Recent reviews of the tactic have identified needed improvements. (7) However, the British criminal justice system and policing culture closely parallel and in some ways birthed the U.S. system This provides an important opportunity for police in the United States to consider the British experience while moving forward with similar initiatives.

Through Prevent and other law enforcement initiatives, United Kingdom counterterrorism police emphasize the value of police-community relationships and the importance of learning. (8) These valuable lessons are stressed because of the vital role they play in building community-based counterterrorism capabilities.


Experienced American law enforcement leaders have tried to harness the potential of community policing and recognize that police-community relationships are key. …