Community Policing in a ‘War on Terror’ Environment: More Difficult, More Vital
Pamela Ligouri Bunker
In the face of the unprecedented terrorist attacks of 9/11, US President George Bush responded to the resultant climate of fear and uncertainty by undertaking broad reactive measures deemed a ‘war on terror.’ This ‘war’ metaphor had far ranging effects in its influence on actions, legislation, and discourse, many of which proved counterproductive to countering terrorism. Policing was not immune to the effects of the ‘war on terror.’ While the 9/11 attacks would push police into a more visible role in appearing “tough on terror,” the 7/7 London attacks would place their focus more fully on domestic Muslim communities. Community policing is a paradigm within law enforcement suggesting that most issues are best dealt with proactively at the community level through collaborative engagement between the community and police. Community policing has been viewed as both integral and anathema to the needs of homeland security. Looking specifically at the US and UK, this essay investigates the extent to which community policing imperatives were compromised in the war on terror. Through an examination of the counterterrorism and policing literature, it elicits the place of community policing within the greater policing paradigm pre-9/11 and how this has changed, shows the ways in which the post-9/11 ‘war on terror’ changed policing’s view of and relationship with the Muslim communities it serves, and examines the ways in which these changes compromised tenets of community policing.
In the face of the unprecedented scope of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States government, under President George Bush, responded to the resultant climate of fear and uncertainty by undertaking broad reactive measures, deemed a ‘war on terror.’ This ‘war’ metaphor would have far ranging effects in its influence on actions, legislation, and discourse. Recognizing the impossibility of fighting a ‘war’ against a tactic at large, the subsequent Obama administration refined the metaphor to one targeting the terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, responsible for the events of 9/11. Still, many of the ongoing influences of the ‘war on terror’ agenda would prove in the months and years ahead to be counterproductive to that end.
English has suggested that, “as a general rule, counter-terrorist response is ideally much more of a police than a military matter” (2009, p. 129). As the most lethal act of domestic terrorism to date, however, 9/11 is often said to have “changed everything,” including the role and profile of policing (Murray, 2005, p. 348; Clark and Newman, 2007, p. 9). Although not unchallenged, it has been argued that the attacks were a product of a “new terrorism,” whose defining characteristics include increased lethality, a growing religious motivation—especially a radical interpretation of Islam, and a move to more networked and diffuse organizational structures of terrorist groups (Bolanos, 2012, pp. 29-31). Bleich has pointed out that “9/11 is merely one highly symbolic turning point among many in this broader trajectory” leading to “the securitization of the Muslim-state relationship in the West” (2009, p. 354). The 7 July 2005 suicide bombings of the London public transit system further impacted governmental and public consciousness regarding the changing nature of terrorism in that—while linked to Al Qaeda—the terrorist attackers were “homegrown.” While the 9/11 attacks would push police into a more visible role in appearing “tough on terror,” the 7/7 attacks would place their focus more fully on domestic Muslim communities.
Community policing—alternately called ‘community oriented policing’ (COP)—is a particular paradigm within the realm of law enforcement suggesting that most issues are best dealt with proactively at the community level. This paradigm, elaborated more fully later, broadly consists of a “collaborative partnership between the community and police, engaged in a process that identifies and solves problems of crime and disorder” (Murray, 2005, pp. 349-50). Community policing has been viewed as both integral and anathema to the needs of homeland security. On the one hand, it has been suggested by de Guzman that, in the context of the war on terror, “some tenets of community policing appear to be inconsistent with the implementation of these new police roles,” citing elements of the “new terrorism” itself as well as a need for secrecy on the part of police (cited in Murray, 2005, pp. 357-8). On the other, it has been argued that the relationships that community policing fosters are “vital to promoting the ‘flow of information’ from communities in order to prevent terrorism” (Pantazis and Pemberton, 2009, p. 659).
Looking specifically at the United States and United Kingdom, this essay investigates the extent to which community policing imperatives were compromised in the war on terror. Through an examination of the counterterrorism and policing literature, Section I elicits the place of community policing within the greater policing paradigm before 9/11, the reasons for its institution, and the extent to which it retains that position within present day policing. Section II shows the ways in which the post-9/11 ‘war on terror’—including effects of the actions undertaken in Iraq and Afghanistan, new legislation enacted domestically, and the institution of Intelligence-Led Policing (ILP) as a response to homeland security concerns—changed policing’s view of and relationship with the Muslim communities it serves. In Section III, the ways in which these changes compromised tenets of community policing with regard to those communities are addressed. The essay concludes with thoughts on the long-term prospects for community policing counterterrorism efforts.
Community Policing in Context
The origins of the modern police service are said to lie in the establishment of the London Metropolitan Police in 1829 by Sir Robert Peel, based on military models of organization (Murray, 2005, p. 349). The hierarchical structure and distancing of police from citizens—keeping them in patrol cars and off the streets—was later institutionalized as an attempt to subdue corruption, improve legitimacy, and focus efforts on law enforcement (Lee, 2010, pp. 347-49). This traditional model would continue to be the predominant form of policing, both in the UK and the US, until the 1960s. Reacting to failures in responding to the social upheaval of that decade, there emerged by the 1970s an attempt to reform police priorities from arresting offenders to prevention through addressing the root causes of crime (Lee, 2010, pp. 349-50). Murray holds that:
The move from a traditionally reactive, action-oriented style of policing to a service-oriented community policing model, which occurred over the past three decades, was the most significant positive change in policing philosophy (2005, p. 349).
Prior to 9/11, then, the ‘community policing’ paradigm had taken pride of place as the favored way—at least in principle if not practice—of addressing most law enforcement issues within jurisdictions. Through expanding the “number and nature of proactive police services,” the resulting approach to law enforcement was seen as having the benefits of focusing on underlying conditions, identifying problems unique to the community, and releasing a community’s own social control mechanisms in order to “co-produce public safety” and deter offenders (Friedmann and Cannon, 2007, p.10). The underlying philosophy is that by being immersed in a particular community—getting to really know its citizens and walking its streets—police officers will be in a position to gain actionable information on criminal activity before it happens.
Complicating the effectiveness of community policing, however, is that different variations and interpretations exist. Johnston has found that, while in North America and Europe there is wide acceptance that “the future lies in community policing,” the discourse on what it entails runs the gamut from its being “a police-led and state-centered initiative” to “a genuine partnership” to “a devolution of rowing with a consolidation of steering model” (2003, pp. 186-7). Furthermore, Spalek has underlined the fact that it is not always made clear that the achievement of community policing goals hinges explicitly on the existence of consent, reciprocity, and—especially— trust (2010, p. 793). In particular, it has been noted that these partnerships work best when they focus on “often marginalized communities” which, at the outset, often have more mistrust of police (Lyons, 2002, p. 530).
These factors all come sharply into focus with the changes in the policing of communities that occurred post-9/11. As early as 2002, Lyons predicted that:
A war on terror is likely to place new and powerful pressure on police forces…to push them in paramilitary directions…and to forego the skill development needed to reinvent police forces capable of working with genuinely reciprocal citizen partnerships (p. 531).
Carter and Carter describe the post-9/11 policing environment as “the homeland security era” (2009, p. 310). Homeland security policing is said to “focus specifically on citizen safety and anti-terrorism methods aimed at the mitigation of future attacks” and, as such, local police are expected to work closely with communities to gather intelligence that is then shared with other state and federal agencies (Chappell and Gibson, 2009, pp. 327-8). At first glance, these goals and means do not seem much different from those entailed by the community policing paradigm. Ultimately, as Clarke and Newman point out, terrorism is but a crime with a political motive and the difference from other crime “merely one of degree” (2007, pp. 15-6).
The first sense, however, that there was a substantive shift in emphasis from community policing to homeland security is in the amount of funding earmarked for each since the attacks. In the US, for example, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the amount of federal funding for homeland security had doubled, while that for community policing fell by half (ibid, p. 327). Similarly, in the UK, by 2011, annual spending by the Metropolitan Police on counter-terrorism, operations, and risk-assessment and intelligence were said to have tripled (Klausen, 2009, p. 406). The second palpable sense that policing had shifted was a “fortification” mentality which emerged (de Guzman in Lee, 2010, p. 350). As Murray describes it:
Policing across the world, to the average observer, became visibly different. It was not just the fact there were more police about, but police had assumed a more aggressive style of dress and manner (2005, p. 356).
Some of this was due to the fact that police forces were given excessive funding for inappropriate or questionable equipment they may have had little use for in the name
of fighting the domestic war on terror while a lack of training and organizational limits remained (Friedman and Cannon, 2007, p. 8). The other fundamental issue, however, was that ‘the war on terror’ discourse passed on its militaristic qualities to counterterrorism efforts even in the realm of homeland security. Grabosky poses that, to some, “the essence of counterterrorism is surveillance and control” to the end that, in the words of Bayley and Weisburd, the police role transformed from “service to suspicion” (In Grabosky, 2008, p. 2). Some have surmised that, where this occurred, community policing principles had never truly taken hold (Murray, 2005, p. 356; Chappel and Gibson, 2009, p. 332).
Beyond these substantive changes in the overall picture, many recognized the overlap between community policing and homeland security and saw the goals of both to be realized in the construct of intelligence-led policing (ILP). Both the 9/11 attacks and the 7/7 bombings highlighted the consequences of either insufficient intelligence information or a lack of sharing thereof. In fact, in March of 2002, a summit of representatives from state, local and tribal law enforcement (SLTLE) agencies with the International Association of Police Chiefs recommended reengineering their intelligence function by adopting the ILP model (Carter and Carter, 2009, pp. 313-14). Intelligence-led policing—like community policing—was originally designed in response to ordinary crime, with the belief in this case that, through gathering as much information as possible and sharing that information with other agencies, law enforcement would inevitably “join up the dots” on threats and prevent crime (Clarke and Newman, 2007, pp. 11-12). One popular ‘blend’ of the two is the neighborhood policing (NP) model widely adopted in England and Wales. As has been pointed out by Spalek, however, this model:
…wholly oversimplifies the wider dynamics and complexities to trust within a counter-terrorism context…building trust goes beyond responding to people’s everyday concerns around crime, especially given the highly politicized “new terrorism” context whereby Muslim communities have been problematized by dominant social and government instigated discourses (2010, p. 794).
A further worry is that, with the focus on threats rather than the community as a whole, citizens will lose their partnership status and become either a “useful tool” to be used as the “eyes and ears” of the police agencies or, even worse, as potential threats to be controlled (Lee, 2010, p. 360). The differences between the models, although seemingly subtle, potentially have much bigger ramifications for police counterterrorism efforts in light of the broader societal effects of the war on terror.
Effects of the War on Terror on the Relationship of Police to Muslim Communities
Post-9/11, the war on terror instituted by the United States and its allies would be undertaken both in the form of military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the enactment of new legislation designed to counter the threat of the ‘new terrorism.’ While ultimately viewed as flawed, the reasoning behind the actions taken has been rationalized from various positions—from the pragmatic to the premeditated. Richardson, for example, explains that:
There was a new-found sense of insecurity. With it came a loss of perspective and, ultimately, a willingness to support a response that was destined to make the situation worse (2006, p. 141).
Crenshaw perhaps more critically contends that a further explanation may be that:
…the conception of a new terrorism supports the case for major policy change—a justification for the global war on terrorism, the establishment of the category of “enemy combatant,” brutal interrogation methods, reliance on a strategy of military preemption, and the use of tactics such as renditions, domestic surveillance activities, and other homeland security measures that restrict civil liberties (2011, pp. 63-4).
The commonality behind all of these actions is that they would serve to place the focus of counterterrorism, both globally and domestically, on a particular group of people—the faith community of Islam.
While the backlash from the military actions such as “collateral damage” from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, among others, may need no explanation; some examples here of new legislation enacted can offer some perspective on the domestic front. In the US, for example, Cainkar notes that “[o]f the roughly twenty policies and initiatives implemented in the first twelve months after 9/11, fifteen explicitly targeted Arabs and Muslims,” including a mandatory hold on all non-immigrant visas, mandatory interviews of those from Arab and Muslim countries, mass deportation, and forced registration of young male non-immigrant aliens from twenty-three Muslim majority countries (Cainkar, 2004, pp. 245-6). In the UK, similarly targeted anti-terror laws have been enacted. Perhaps the most notorious is the implementation of Section 44 stops-and-searches which allow for individuals to be stopped and searched on the street for articles relating to terrorism without need for reasonable suspicion, resulting in over half a million stops with no convictions (Choudhury and Fenwick, 2011, pp. 167-9). These stops-and-searches reportedly focused on Muslim communities, with an increase in the targeting of ‘Asians’ of 302% in a year—compared to 230% and 118% for ‘blacks’ and ‘whites,’ respectively (In Spalek and Lambert, 2008, p. 268).
Considering the historical precedent of the Irish experience in Britain as set out by Hillyard, Breen-Smyth maintains that now—as then—the focus of counterterrorism efforts within an identifiable community, particularly in its publically visible forms such as stops, searches, detention, and arrest, serves to create a “suspect community.” The public begins to identify these suspect communities as “dangerous, antipathetic, and traitorous” (2013, pp. 2, 7-8). Pantzis and Pemberton define a suspect community as:
…a sub-group that is singled out for attention as being ‘problematic.’ Specifically, in terms of policing, individuals may be targeted, not necessarily as a result of suspected wrong doing, but simply because of their presumed membership in that subgroup (2009, p. 649).
This need for “othering” lies not only in major counter-terrorism campaigns. Huq and Muller show that major law enforcement foci—such as the ‘war on crime’ and the ‘war on drugs’—created a stereotypical gang member, pedophile, or drug user whom the public could vilify (2008, p. 217).
In the case of the ‘war on terror,’ however, the “other” is said to lie among those espousing a radicalized form of a religion whose members are virtually indistinguishable at a glance from any other member of the various religious and ethnic sub-communities in which they might be found. In the UK alone, the Muslim population has 56 nationalities, 70 languages, and 1,200 different mosques representing Sunni, Shi’a, and Sufi, and many different schools of thought (Spalek and Imtoual, p. 198). This sheer diversity of the Muslim population in the West has often been lost with the “security lens” through which they are now viewed (Bleich, 2009, p. 354).
Hickman et. al. note the ambiguous position of members of suspect communities in that they simultaneously occupy the roles of victims needing protection, partners with law enforcement and a potential safe harbor for extremists (2011, p. 14). As law enforcement turned its concern to “domestic terrorist sleeper cells” and focused on, in the words of US Attorney General John Ashcroft, “identifying threats of future terrorist acts, preventing them from happening, and punishing would-be perpetrators” (In Huq and Muller, pp. 215, 222), there would be an increased perception of a need to have Muslim “community” cooperation in the pursuit of intelligence leads. At the same time, the ‘new terrorism’ emphasis on radical Islam as key to Al Qaeda terrorist acts placed focus on the need to identify “radical elements” within that community as would-be terrorists to be surveilled or arrested. Supportive communities are deemed imperative to both turning a blind eye to terrorist activities in their midst but also are themselves considered subject to terrorist recruitment. Through these perceptions, policing began subtly—and in some cases not so subtly—distancing itself from its Muslim citizens.
Compromises in the Tenets of Community Policing
Muslim communities have thus been placed in a precarious position. These communities feel a need to be cooperative with official government agencies but may feel that they are being asked to “spy” on friends. Spalek and Imtoual describe how anti-terror measures have framed this choice for Muslims as one of between “good Muslim community member” and “good citizen” (2007, p. 185). Lyons response is a strong one, and lies at the crux of the community policing versus intelligence-led policing dichotomy:
Cooperation with the police cannot be a precondition for being treated like a citizen. If we expect Arab-Americans and Islamic-Americans to share information, perhaps at great personal risk, it is incumbent on us to first treat them with respect, protecting their liberties and dignity as zealously as those of other Americans to provide a foundation for their willing cooperation (2002, p. 537).
In fact, measures such as forcing cooperation on the government’s terms may actually be unnecessary and do more harm than good. A 2009 study by Tyler et. al. of Muslim Americans in New York City tested normative (value-based) versus instrumental (e.g. to avoid confrontations) reasons behind the motivation for cooperation with law enforcement authorities regarding terror-related risks in the community. Their findings strongly suggest a normative response but find this is contingent upon their trust and confidence in the authorities, particularly their perceptions of procedural justice (2010).
This leads us back to the placement of community policing in relation to the war on terror and the compromises that the move towards a homeland security emphasis have wrought. There has recently been a recognition that ‘hard-sided’ approaches have taken their toll and that a reversion to more ‘soft-sided’ approaches—a decade hence— may now be starting to take place (Spalek, 2010, pp. 792-3). The recognition that community policing has much to offer counter-terrorism rests on some general assumptions shared by many who promote the usefulness of community policing for counterterrorism purposes. The core of this is that terrorists have to live in a community somewhere, that this will be a place where they will seek to blend in, and that local ‘beat’ police will be in the best position to recognize any signs or changes in the community they serve and will further be able to glean information on potential terrorist activity from those citizens and business persons with whom they interact on a regular basis.
The problems in most assumptions are clear in a statement by Kelling and Bratton. They maintain that local police “are in a better position to know responsible leaders in the Islamic and Arab communities and can reach out to them for information or help in developing informants” (In Clarke and Newman, 2007, p. 13, emphasis mine). The reason that community policing works is precisely that it is not geared toward developing informants but rather working in concert with the community. There is a relationship of trust built on—to the greatest extent possible—a give and take and geared toward the mutual stake all parties have in the community. They are partnerships. The key to these relationships of trust is that they are not abused.
It is often said that trust is fragile and hard to rebuild once it is shaken. Spalek has been led to ask “whether trust can be built at all between police officers and Muslim minorities, within the context of the ‘new terrorism.’” She points out that the literature suggests that the trust that exists between them is easily eroded through over-policing (2010, p. 790). Trust between police and the Muslim communities they serve has been undermined due to factors intrinsic to the ‘war on terror.’ One cause has been a view that the actions (and abuses) related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined with the targeted focus of domestic legislation have really constituted a ‘war on Islam’ (Spalek, 2010, p. 805). Another factor is that when Muslim families are singled out and detained at airports and miss their flights, when young Muslim men are repeatedly stopped and searched, or when whole Muslim communities are subject to covert surveillance as happened in Birmingham, there is a backlash to domestic counterterrorism efforts that goes beyond those individuals affected to the Muslim communities at large (Choudhary and Fenwick, 2011, pp. 162-73).
The second part of the Kelling and Bratton statement above that proponents of true community policing should take issue with is the identification of “responsible leaders” within the Islamic communities. Spalek and Lambert have pointed out that often governments are reluctant to engage with those sub-groups within the larger Muslim community which do not agree with governmental policies, particularly those “Muslim identities that appear to value the ummah over feelings of Britishness, or who appear to isolate themselves from wider society” (2008, p. 261). Lambert elaborates this exclusionary process of engagement further, finding a bias against Salafi and Islamist communities in favor of their more “moderate” religious opponents. If engagement with these groups is necessary, he finds, it has been advocated this be done covertly, “in a dark alley” (2008, p. 33).
In reality, it has been found that most Salafi and Islamist community leaders are at the forefront of combatting the very terrorist rhetoric to which counterterrorism efforts are addressed. In the US, Schanzer et. al. interviewed 120 Muslims in four communities across the country. Among their findings were that “the self-described Salafis in our project were among the most hostile to radical Islamic movements, which they considered haram, religiously impermissible” at the same time they were less quick to condemn acts outside the US that were part of armed conflict (2010, p. 22). In the UK, Lambert argues that:
Indeed, in London, a handful of Salafi and Islamist groups have been at the forefront of groundbreaking community work that successfully counters the adverse influence of al-Qaeda propaganda among susceptible youth. In doing so, they face the double-jeopardy of attack from within their increasingly alienated communities…and suspicions from without—where Islamists and Salafis are pejoratively conflated with the al-Qaeda threat (2010, p. 33).
These authors further stress that the term ‘Salafi’ refers simply to the fact that they are followers of the first generation of Muslims (the Salaf), a form of Islamic doctrine that rejects later interpretations while Islamists are Islamic political or social activists (Spalek and Lambert, 2008, pp. 264-5, Schanzer et. al., 2010, p. 22). Spalek and Lambert point out that police are choosing to work with groups willing to cooperate on their terms, for example Sufis, who have “little knowledge of al-Qaida activity and even less street credibility to be able to tackle it” while ignoring the potential of those groups most likely to be helpful (2008, pp. 266-7). This goes against the very essence of community policing in that it fails to create relationships with an entire community thereby losing out on the trust that contributes to the safety of the community as a whole. It is particularly spurious to choose partners on the basis of “moderacy” when surveys have estimated that in the UK 91% of Muslims as a whole disagree with UK government foreign policy (Spalek, 2010, p. 805).
Conclusion: The Future of Community Policing for Counterterrorism
Despite the still mainstream notion of a need to project a ‘tough’ stance on terror, there are those who maintain a firm belief that the tenets of community policing are more vital than ever. Prevention is at the heart of counterterrorism. Like the prevention of all crime, it requires the piecing together of information from the community to identify a threat to peace and order. While terrorism is infrequent, the day-to-day concerns of communities go on and the trust engendered by community policing—when done right—relies on all its actors maintaining ongoing engagement. Horgan makes the point that:
It is naturally easier to attempt to prevent future instances of some action by immediately punishing it than it is to find some other way of redirecting that behavior, or what underpins it (2005, p. 44).
In the discussion above, it is clear that—in order to prevent terrorism—in some cases it is necessary to engage with groups with views which are not ‘mainstream’ yet are best able to redirect those who are misled by groups, such as al-Qaeda, into considering the employment of terrorism a ‘religious mandate’. Important programs have been operating for years to those ends, both independently and supported by police agencies. The STREET program, initiated in Brixton, South London, exemplifies the kind of successes that local communities can achieve. This program, geared towards Muslim youth provides a safe social environment while allowing the deconstruction of erroneous religious/civic beliefs by those respected as authoritative voices (Haqq Baker, 2011, pp. 220-25). Since its inception in 2002, similar partnerships have been advanced by the Muslim Contact Unit of the London Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). While MCU officers are specialists in counterterrorism rather than local ‘beat’ police, the principles of interaction are the same and there is transparency in engagement (Lambert, 2008, pp. 32-3). It has been noted that many local agencies lack properly trained intelligence analysts (Clarke and Newman, 2007, p.12). The MCU model may offer a positive ‘blend’ of community and specialist policing for further application. Finally, Spalek and Imtuoal suggest “the notion that extremists can be located in any [specific] community is problematic” (2007, p. 194). For the future, we need to be cognizant that terrorism has a variety of bases and to link it with specific communities can ‘problematize’ them and backfire in our intent.
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