Terrorism Prevention through Community Policing

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Robert Wyckoff


Mass casualty, pre-meditated, and targeted violence incidents connected with extremism and hate are on the rise in the United States. In 2019, there were 41 mass killings in the country, which is more than ever recorded in a single year.[1] 2018 was the fourth-deadliest year on record for domestic extremist-related murders in the United States.[2] 2017 also spelled trouble for American citizens, with bias-motivated hate crimes spiking 17 percent from 2016.[3] The increase in 2017 was on the heels of a 37 percent jump from 2015 to 2016.[4] The offenders are motivated primarily by anger and hate directed toward a specific race, religion, sexual orientation, ideology, or gang affiliation or outrage targeting co-workers, fellow students, and family members.[5]

In 2011, the U.S. government developed a program known as Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) to address the emerging threat of violence connected with hate-fueled ideologies. Since then, millions of government dollars have been awarded for CVE programs throughout the United States.[6] The CVE effort was illegitimate in the eyes of many community groups and researchers across the country, resulting in mistrust, anger, resentment, and alienation of those citizens in the very communities the programs were meant to protect and strengthen.[7]

Current CVE practices have restricted the positive relationship building that community policing models achieve, and law enforcement has been slow to recognize the importance of properly unifying CVE and community policing in every community. Developing a framework at the local level that seeks to derail acts of violence through preventative efforts is something law enforcement should consider. This thesis served as the pathway to discover whether CVE can benefit from the integration of community policing strategies and, if so, how might CVE prosper when unified with community policing.

Law enforcement command personnel and homeland security professionals are responsible for building internal and external capacities to address a variety of issues related to crime and disorder, and the time has come for law enforcement to address premediated violence connected to extremism. This thesis explored local-level solutions that mitigate mass casualty, ideologically inspired violence. If CVE is the product the government wishes to endorse and apply at the community level to address premeditated violence, how might those programs benefit from the integration of community policing strategies?

An appreciative tone and approach were used to explore valuable strategies from community policing that could benefit CVE. This type of analysis values all creative contributions to the work space to determine a productive and effective path forward.[8] It allows the organization to learn and develop new skills for future use while creating opportunities for positive growth.[9] Research from Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and the Department of Justice provided the framework of the 2014 three-city CVE pilot program effort.[10] Open-source documents detailed the plan involving Boston, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis and the intentional focus on Muslim populations. A thorough inquiry into each program was necessary and relevant, as these programs set the tone for future CVE models. Opening the aperture on their deficiencies helped to extrapolate the effectiveness of CVE if merged with community policing concepts. The thesis also examined reports by the Brennan Center for Justice and the RAND Corporation, both well-respected, non-partisan policy institutions that have invested considerable resources to researching CVE tactics their practicality as a tool to reduce targeted violence. Both organizations advocated several forward-leaning public policy positions yet opposed each other in the CVE arena.[11]

Most police agencies have relied on traditional tactics of investigation, surveillance, and arrest as the preferred counterterrorism technique to prevent mass casualty violence.[12] This thesis explored local-level terrorism prevention work happening in communities involving modern community policing strategies. The Los Angeles Police Department and New York City Police Department have embraced terrorism prevention and disrupted violence through community policing, in distinctive and dissimilar styles. A close analysis of their community policing and targeted violence systems shed light on the question of how police departments introduce and institutionalize CVE and terrorism prevention within the community policing model.

This thesis found that the benefits of community policing stretch beyond improved police–community relationships and trust building, indeed working toward the mitigation of targeted violence, hate crimes, and terrorism. It also identified the strategies most needed to unify community policing and CVE to create successful mass casualty prevention programming, including the kinds of internal and external changes essential for police departments to create successful CVE programs.

This thesis offered the following recommendations for integrating CVE with the community policing model:

  1. Language Matters: Abandon the phrase “countering violent extremism” and adopt language that verifies and displays a whole-of-community, all-inclusive violence prevention approach.
  2. Problem-Solving Approach: Empower all front-line police officers to be collaborative problem solvers, trained in community-level outreach and engagement. This should include communication-based training that emphasizes problem solving, helpful community resources, dispute mediation, and social interaction skills.
  3. Cultivate Citizen Involvement: Involve community members and local organizations in violent-extremism program design, training, and application. Acknowledge diverse populations, including immigrant and refugees within the jurisdiction, and provide bias-motivated and hate-crime training to these groups.
  4. Education and Awareness: Violent crimes and acts of terrorism occur locally, so community police officers need to be equipped with resources about terrorism awareness and suspicious activities. Hate-crime and violent-extremism awareness training for all front-line members of the police agency should be a priority.
  5. Organizational Support: Commitment from top law enforcement leadership is a cornerstone of effective community policing implementation. Prioritizing hate-crime and extremist-related violence prevention strategies as a primary public safety focus will ensure finite resources are aligned properly to mitigate the threat of hate crime and mass casualty violence. Doing so positively influences the perception of police within diverse community groups and builds trust between police and the groups who suffer from acts of hate.

These recommendations offer a path forward that promotes integration, transparency, and respect and opportunities between the police and communities that can mitigate mass casualty violence inspired by radicalization and hate-filled ideologies.



[1] Associated Press, “U.S. Mass Killings Hit New High in 2019, Most Were Shootings,” NBC News, December 24, 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/u-s-mass-killings-hit-new-high-2019-most-were-n1106866.

[2] Mark Pitcavage, Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2018 (New York: Anti-Defamation League, 2019), https://www.adl.org/media/12480/download.

[3] “2017 Hate Crime Statistics Released,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, November 13, 2018, https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2017-hate-crime-statistics-released-111318.

[4] Madeline Masucci and Lynn Langton, Hate Crime Victimization, 2004–2015, NCJ 250653 (Washington, DC: Department of Justice, 2017), https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/hcv0415.pdf.

[5] Masucci and Langton, Hate Crime Victimization; Associated Press, “U.S. Mass Killings Hit New High in 2019.

[6] “DHS Countering Violent Extremism Grants,” Department of Homeland Security, December 20, 2018, https://www.dhs.gov/cvegrants.

[7] Faiza Patel and Meghan Koushik, Countering Violent Extremism (New York: Brennan Center for Justice, 2017), https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/publications/Brennan%20Center%

[8] Frank Barrett and Ronald Fry, Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Approach to Building Cooperative Capacity (Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute Publications, 2008).

[9] Barrett and Fry.

[10] United States Attorney’s Office, District of Minnesota, Building Community Resilience (Minneapolis: United States Attorney’s Office, 2015), https://www.justice.gov/usao-mn/building-community-resilience; Elena Savoia et al., S&T FRG Greater Boston CVE Pilot Program Project Report (Boston: Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, 2018), https://www.dhs.gov/publication/st-frg-greater-boston-cve-pilot-program-project-report; Stevan Weine et al., S&T Leveraging a Targeted Violence Prevention Program to Prevent Violent Extremism: A Formative Evaluation in Los Angeles (Chicago: University of Illinois at Chicago, 2018), https://www.dhs.gov/publication/st-leveraging-targeted-violence-prevention-program-prevent-violent-extremism-formative.

[11] Brian A. Jackson et al., Practical Terrorism Prevention: Reexamining U.S. National Approaches to Addressing the Threat of Ideologically Motivated Violence (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019), https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2647.html; Patel and Koushik, Countering Violent Extremism.

[12] David Schanzer et al., The Challenge and Promise of Using Community Policing Strategies to Prevent Violent Extremism: A Call for Community Partnerships with Law Enforcement to Enhance Public Safety (Durham, NC: Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, January 2016), 87.

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