Counterinsurgency and Community Policing: More Alike than Meets the Eye
The twenty-first century has thus far presented American law enforcement with some unique challenges, not the least of which is combating terrorism with conventional policing practices. The complex nature of globally coordinated criminal networks, such as terrorism, violent street gangs, drug cartels, organized crime, and a host of domestic and foreign violent extremist activities with transnational reach that manifestly resemble insurgent activities, has required new and innovative ideas and approaches in response. No longer will traditional law enforcement techniques, tactics, and procedures be sufficient to the task. Traditional policing practices, in which authorities attempt to identify and apprehend a perpetrator after a crime has been committed, are inadequate. The threats are global, multi-dimensional, technologically adept and advanced and influenced by constantly changing socio-political factors from around the world. To deal with increasingly sophisticated transnational threats – specifically terrorist who are determined to cause many deaths and great destruction without regard for their own lives – a higher order level of thinking, strategy, and tactics is essential. While law enforcement is bound by law, customs, and tradition, criminals are essentially unbound. That is to say that they are free to do anything that they are not constrained from doing.
The violent, intimidating, and corrupting activities of illegal internal and transnational criminal threats – such as violent extremist, urban gangs, drug cartels, organize crime, etc. – can abridge sovereign state powers and negate national and regional security. Domestic law enforcement methods and strategies are pressed continuously to evolve and adapt so as to address the ever increasing interconnectedness – globalization – of criminal enterprises. As a result, American law enforcement has been looking at military experience and application of successful counterinsurgency (COIN) operations, methods and strategies to merge with community policing methods in an effort to identify, localize, manage and, where possible, eliminate these threats.
Understanding the background of COIN is a prerequisite for applying COIN concepts to community policing and determining capacities for law enforcement response. Successful COIN campaigns often require significant shifts in perspective and perception. To grasp the challenges, both constitutionally and socially, inherent in policing civil societies, it is important to recognize that the framework for thinking about the application of COIN in community policing hinge on “bottom up” approaches – which is to say starting from the individual and family level through to the community level.
Criminal enterprises and their transnational effects are increasingly being recognized as complex matrices of irregular actors with widely differing goals. What may succeed with ideological extremist may fail with violent street gangs or partially succeed with drug cartels. Factors such as socioeconomic status, violent ideology, cultural norms and modalities, education or lack thereof, psychological considerations and political objectives, are root causes that will often dictate strategy and response. Root causes can be characterized as “push” and “pull” factors that, if social structures exist, set preconditions for violent crime and terrorist action. “Push” factors such as community/ethnic alienation, racism, discrimination, local grievances, feeling of oppression or perceptions of injustice over western policies may push a community, or segment of a community, towards radicalism and violence. “Pull” factors such as violent ideology, cultural modalities, local community support, virtual networks of like-minded groups (Internet based), and in many cases charismatic figures, present powerful motivations and presents unique challenges as it is socially anchored. As such, the response plan will require a flexible but nuanced approach to specific problem sets.
The linkage of contemporary criminal networks to insurgents and insurgency stems from the instability these networks cause on government and the concomitant challenge to state sovereignty and societal well-being. A prime example of the linkage is the Central American gangs Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Mara 18 (M-18). Both have strong roots in California but are anchored in El Salvador. Like insurgents in Afghanistan, both engage in smuggling drugs, arms, people, associated murder, kidnapping and other criminal activity that erode government legitimacy in an effort to sustain their dominance and control of an area or community. Although differences between globally coordinated criminal networks and insurgents exist, specifically regarding motives and modes of operation, the linkage infers that both are mutated forms of urban insurgency. The most salient characteristic of this urban insurgency is that it poses transnational implications and is the criminal manifestation of the information age. Information age technologies, most notably the Internet, provide urban insurgents capacities and capabilities in organizational flexibility and control that was once not readily available. These characteristics enhance their capabilities, obscure their intentions, and increase our vulnerabilities.
The term counterinsurgency has long been associated with military operations and soldiers. It conjures visions of violent urban combat action, population relocation, social engineering, and a tool for dealing with foreign political emergencies. These visions are not inaccurate as they represent some of the methods and strategies used in COIN operations throughout history. But these methods and strategies do not encapsulate all aspects of COIN. As COIN operations shift from combat to peace keeping and community-building they begin to resemble traditional community policing activities in which the public servant controls through education and raising ethical stature in communities. It is in the transitional phase – when the soldier transitions into the policeman and community facilitator – that COIN and Community policing share the same strategies and tactics. To appreciate the similarities in both it is important to identify and understand some of the major differences.
The most salient difference, in terms of public opinion, is perception. COIN has long been considered a military term with perceived connotations of combat operations and martial law. It is force based, enemy centric and highly restrictive of civil liberties. COIN is also viewed as having a greater degree of freedom, in terms of oversight and legal restrictions, and is employed in political emergencies in other countries. In comparison to community policing it is suggestive of a totalitarian military dictatorship. Community policing, on the other hand, is viewed as population centric with a softer partnership driven objective. It is a care based approach that is highly scrutinized and regulated by civilian oversight, representative of the civilian population. Police officers have a limited degree of freedom in enforcement activities as they are bound to constitutional imperatives and guidelines.
COIN is typically employed by uniformed soldiers, armed with assault rifles and supported by light and heavy armored vehicles and tactical air assets. Community Policing is conducted by uniformed police officers, representatives of the community they serve, with a badge, a holstered pistol, and a number of less-lethal tools. In COIN, soldiers control population movement and space through use of roadblocks, cordoning off, house to house search and clearing operations, and patrolling villages and neighborhoods in HUMVEE’s and Armored Personnel Carriers. In Community Policing, police patrol neighborhoods in police cars, bicycles, foot beats, and horses, people are free to move about and there is no outward show of force. COIN is initially enemy centric and evolves toward community and people centric as security begins to take root. Community Policing is people centric and focuses on establishing and maintaining relationships with communities.
Legal differences revolve around degrees of freedom. During COIN operations there are no search and seizure restrictions – soldiers do not have to establish probable cause to seize contraband or stop and interrogate suspected insurgents. Rules of evidence and the right to counsel do not apply in almost all cases. Insurgents are treated as enemy combatants in accordance with the rules of engagement and the laws of war. Soldiers involved in COIN have a greater degree of freedom in exercising enforcement and population control activities, police officers do not. Police officers are bound by constitutional guidelines and the rule of law. The degree of freedom in community policing activities – search and seizure, right to counsel, rules of evidence, etc. – is limited, narrow, closely monitored by the citizenry and supported by the rule of law and governed by elected officials and appointed representatives of the people. Military forces interact with foreign populations while police in the U.S. are part of the fabric or society.
COIN and Community Policing are intrinsically linked. Though distinct differences exist, as mentioned above, the similarities between the two have important strategic implications. Both seek to change the dynamic in communities where convergent threats exist by focusing on non-kinetic imperatives such as community based engagements, community-police partnership programs, cultural awareness and sensitivity, and outreach programs designed to enhance and foster understanding and communication between the stakeholders. The soldier and the police officer have shifted from rule based practitioners to care based facilitators and problem solvers. An excellent example of how closely COIN operations and Community Policing enterprises have merged can be found in both the Army and Marine Corps “Clear-Hold-Build” operations in Tal Afar, Iraq. Each employed the Community Policing problems solving process of SARA (Scan, Analyze, Respond, and Assess) to identify hot spots in the community, and in partnership with community stakeholders, address cultural and social concerns.
In addition to the non-kinetic imperatives mentioned above, similarities can also be found in traditional policing activities such as crime prevention, traffic control, crime investigation, and overall public safety. In COIN operations powers of arrest are generally left to the police organizations of the host nation. However, soldiers stand side by side with their host nation counterpart and provide assistance in the form of identifying and, when necessary, arresting insurgents. In both COIN and Community Policing foot patrols are conducted and face-to-face interaction with community members goes hand in hand with security activities. This simple tactic builds relationships opportunities and enhances familiarity and consistency. The close proximity and shared responsibility of the community’s health and well being, along with the shared hardships, has helped to establish and reinforce the population perception of a closer relationship.
For soldiers and police officers this has been an important step in the process of building partnerships. The British employed this aspect of COIN to great effect in Northern Ireland. Known as the “soft approach,” the British strategy gradually centered on nonaggressive reactions to attacks. It emphasized interaction with the locals through foot patrols and presented a nonthreatening posture to gain trust. Having closer contact, addressing community problems, utilizing social service resources and establishing relationships through consistent community policing engagements, the British were able to bring a relatively peaceful end to the period of insurgency known as “the Troubles.”
Synthesis is defined as the combining of constituent elements of separate material or abstract entities into a single or unified entity. Convergence strategy is the synthesis of the best practices of COIN and Community Policing. Convergence strategy is a broad based, multi-pronged, multi-disciplinary approach to transnational convergent threats. Convergence strategy is the systematic application of both kinetic initiatives such as, enforcement of laws, proactive crime prevention, identification and apprehension of criminals, investigative processes, and overall public safety measures to address the tangible and visible problems affecting communities; and non-kinetic initiative such as, community outreach, community police advisory boards, partnership building, neighborhood watch programs, public and private organizational collaboration, social services programs and access, educational initiatives, and establishing robust personal contact and communication networks, with community leaders, to name a few. Convergence strategy will be the catalyst that coalesces kinetic and non-kinetic initiatives and applies them simultaneously to achieve success in an integrated effort that separates, alienates, delegitimizes and undermines the convergent threats (domestic insurgents), while building government control and strengthening popular support.
Through effective engagement of the population with these programs, which can range from the simple to the sophisticated, a number of strategic objectives can be achieved. Markedly lower crime rates, rumor control, intelligence about suspects or potential violent extremist, communication of police practices and policy, decrease in violence, salient and long lasting partnerships with community members, and when employed correctly, the empowerment of entire communities to claim ownership and responsibility for their own safety. Non-kinetic influences and empowerment of populations will ultimately determine mission success or failure.
Successful Convergence outcomes hinge on legitimacy as the foundation upon which the entire strategy of Convergence rests. Legitimacy comes from the people. Perception of the local population is an important factor to consider when discussing the legitimacy of an operation or strategy. Legitimacy starts with the perception by the local population that an organization is operating constitutionally, transparently and within the law. Legitimacy is the distillation of community expectations of government institutions that produce results with integrity and transparency. The need for transparency – being perceived to be and authentically honoring this principle – in Convergence application cannot be understated. What makes legitimacy so important is that the Convergence strategy is employed at the intersection of military/police power and humanity. This is the point in the road when the police officer must identify and connect with some common thread of humanity in the community they encounter. More importantly, they must achieve a level of trust and legitimacy that enables those communities to connect with those threads as well and allow themselves to become willing partners in the efforts to combat convergent threats.
Convergence Strategy: The Nuts and Bolts
Local law enforcement agencies around the world face an increasingly complex set of problems with the emergence of globally coordinated criminal networks and national security threats. Modern-day criminals have proved themselves to be transnational in reach, linked by sophisticated networks and highly adaptive in their thinking. Convergence strategy, in full spectrum application, is equally adaptive and networked. The multi-pronged, multi-disciplinary approach brings to bare wide and varied resources to address enforcement initiatives and community based government enterprises.
The word convergence is used variously by different disciplines. In this context, the intent is to describe the process of bringing different elements together to achieve a result beneficial to all. As a real-world example, the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain Project (http://humanterrainsystem.army.mil/) put anthropologist and other social scientist alongside combat units in Afghanistan and Iraq to help the military better understand local cultures and, therefore, enhance operation effectiveness and reduce military and civilian conflict.
This concept translates well to policing in the context of Convergence. To face a relatively new adversary, law enforcement has had to bolster old strengths, such as investigative skills, while acquiring new information, such as specific knowledge of convergent threats (terrorist organizations, violent gangs and organized crime with transnational reach, etc.). These developments are often fostered by collaborative multidisciplinary environments, which have shed light on how Convergence strategy will be employed. The strength of convergence lies in its multi-disciplinary and multi-pronged approach which effectively engages communities, specifically disaffected communities, on a philosophical and human level. At the same time, this approach creates partnerships with these communities that focus proactive enforcement mechanisms to identify, locate, separate, and arrest suspects (insurgents) engaged in transnational convergent criminal activity.
Community concerns coupled with police officers intimate street level knowledge of the intricacies and nuances of their area will drive convergence strategy imperatives. It is important to note that convergence operations will not be led by law enforcement, but instead they will be driven by the community. The first step in convergence strategy is to identify and mobilize around a specific community value such as the desire to have safe neighborhoods, drug free schools, economic opportunities, access to social services, forums to air grievances, etc. In doing so, the community-police partnership is mutually focused in a collaborative problem solving process, and can begin to clarify the factors that threaten community values and allow the partnership to devise realistic intervention strategies. The stakeholders, therefore, will have a vested interest in the success of the strategy.
An example of such a partnership occurred in Northern Ireland when the British shifted operational focus from strictly kinetic based (capture/kill/arrest) to a combination of kinetic and non-kinetic based (social, economic, education) solutions. This combination allowed the British to address community grievances with multi-disciplinary solutions. Catholics in Northern Ireland long felt disaffected and discriminated against in jobs, housing, and educational opportunities compared to the non-Catholic population. Their sense of exclusion from societal amenities fueled their support for the IRA, with a pool of recruits, an intelligence network, safe houses, and financial and human resources. The British, in partnership with community leaders, addressed the major grievances of housing, jobs, community relations and education by devoting attention and economic resources. The enlargement of the public sector and consequent expansion in employment produced a stabilizing effect for the disaffected and virtually eliminated the IRA’s support structure.
The criminal elements that make up convergent threats pose distinct problem sets by virtue of their specific criminal enterprises. However, they do share commonalities such as conspiracies, intimidation, violence, robbery, theft, financial crimes, kidnapping and murder to name a few, that form the base from which they are able to engage in their respective criminal aims. Criminal enterprises such as violent street gangs and environmental extremist, seemingly at opposite ends of the convergent threat spectrum, both require funding, organizational structure and control, and to some degree an external support structure to maintain and continue their strategic and operational objectives.
Herein lay the unique response and employment aspect of Convergence strategies. Convergence employs kinetic responses to the common threat elements while simultaneously mobilizing non-kinetic resources to predict and prevent continuation of convergent threat enterprises. It does so by tailoring Convergence strategy to the specific problem set (threat) and targeting individuals or segments of the population that are vulnerable to support or acquiesce in the continuation of the criminal enterprise in question. As a result of the adaptability of Convergence strategy it can be applied to the entire spectrum of convergent threats.
Ultimately the goal of convergence strategy is to achieve the identification, separation, alienation, and dismantling of convergent threats to the point where they are rendered operationally ineffective or eliminated. It will do so by:
- Identifying affected communities – those communities that are plagued by convergent threats (insurgents) such as violent street gangs, organized crime, drug cartels, and extremist of one sort or another.
- Identifying disaffected communities – those communities that are under perceived or real siege, subject to significant internal and external political, cultural, and religious pressures, and lack the forum to communicate grievances or concerns. These communities are particularly important to identify as they are most susceptible to enclaves of radicalism and extremist ideologies (i.e. Middle Eastern, Baltic, Southeast and Southwest Asian).
- Drive a wedge and separate these communities from convergent threats (insurgents) through use of kinetic and non-kinetic resource employment. As part of driving a wedge, identifying key “bridging” individuals (insurgents, who by personal connections link disaffected community members to extremist leaders (insurgent leaders)) and making them a priority for reconciliation or detention.
- Separate these communities from the “hard corps” elements (insurgents) by focusing and emphasizing community values (vested interests) and persuading the disaffected that government institutions and the rule of law will yield greater benefit and stability than uncertainty, violence, and death offered by the convergent threat alternative. Through mobilization of the populace, and close partnerships, the “hard corps” element will be denied safe havens, support, and freedom to operate.
- Develop predictive capability and capacity in a joint environment stemming from the empowerment of the community and bringing to bare community-police initiatives.
- Assessing and monitoring Convergence strategy effectiveness. Considering the ever evolving nature of convergent threats, it is critical that Convergence strategy be pliable and equally adaptive and networked so as to effectively respond to the changing nature of the threat.
- Maintain community-police situational awareness. Ensuring that the Convergence strategy addressing the specific threat(s) remains in place but continues to evolve in accordance with convergent threat indicators (i.e. emerging radicalism/extremism, violent gang activity, organized crime activity, narcotics trafficking, etc.).
Diaspora communities are in transition from one culture to another, making its members particularly vulnerable to identity crisis which may be very easily subverted by ideologues. One of the biggest challenges for Convergence strategy in this environment is separating political jihadists (i.e., those who intentionally plant seeds of division in an effort to alienate and isolate Muslim citizens from the rest of society) from legitimate actors. We have learned that Muslim communities in the U.S. feel alienated and detached from the greater community. Therefore, they may turn to other sources of information for news and socialization, such as the Internet. Many homegrown terrorist begin their journey to violent jihad on the Internet. It is easily accessible to acolytes, reinforcing and channeling their anger and resentment. A majority of Muslim Americans (53%) say it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the United States since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Most also believe that the government “singles out” Muslims for increased surveillance and monitoring.
Since 9/11, there have been 48 reported cases of recruitment to jihadist terrorism in the United States. In all, 131 persons have been identified - a tiny fraction of the American Muslim community, which numbers about 3 million. While kinetic approaches may seem appropriate and necessary, the real solution lies in the community – with the strengthening of the family structure, education, and the economic base. Similar to the violent street gang problems faced in Los Angeles, the signs of extremism are first seen on the most local levels; in the families, neighborhoods, schools, mosques, and work places. This is where Convergence strategy comes to the fore. Aggressive outreach and grassroots dialogue, education initiatives, and community based government enterprises will strengthen community-police partnerships and build robust trust networks from the street level officer to the highest command staff executive. It is from this trust base that communication, understanding, and indications and warnings of potential extremist activities will emerge and can be acted upon primarily by community members.
As part of Convergence Strategy expanded efforts are made through community policing and community based government enterprises to work with members of the Muslim community. These efforts entail working with the community actively and consistently to address issues of crime, fears of crime, the suspicion of authority, and other community concerns. Relatives and friends are often more likely than the authorities to know when someone is turning dangerously radical and heading toward self destruction. Citizen involvement is essential, but so is maintaining positive community-police relations with all members of the community without stigmatizing any group.
Issues to Consider
The delicate issue that will challenge democratic societies is how to deal with transnational convergent threats and still preserve our liberties. Transnational convergent threats are characterized by their global nature and, therefore, pose both unique security problems and profound constitutional challenges. Protections exist in the United States that have historically prevented the repression of civil liberties. Protection of privacy and clear limits to military authority are among the most cherished of our liberties. In dealing with transnational convergent threats our liberties tend to bind out response options. Were we less protective of our privacy and civil liberties, we might be better able to track our enemies. But this capitulation of privacy and protections is anathema to our traditions and constitutional imperatives. As such, we face a twofold threat. If we underestimate the threats, we run the risk of serious, even catastrophic danger. If we overestimate them, we run the risk of sacrificing our liberties. In the context of applying convergence strategy, a delicate balance must be maintained. Preservation of liberties and maintenance of our security are not incompatible. Provided that we understand the purposes behind our laws and remain true to them, we can adapt ourselves to the new circumstances.
It is important to understand this delicate balance because if we are anything less than rational and objective in our cost/benefit analysis of convergence strategy employment, we may run the risk of doing more harm than good. Because of the complexity of where and how terrorist are recruited or recruit themselves to violence, law enforcement and government officials need to tread carefully. Well meaning intervention can do great harm, destroying trust among diasporas that are critical allies in Convergence strategy. Take for example the British “Prevent” program, which was designed to support Muslim communities in resisting those who target their young people and attempt to draw them towards terrorism. A worthy endeavor, however, their interdiction efforts resembled intelligence collections operations and had the effect of alienating the vary communities they were trying to bring into the community cohesion fold.
Another example where COIN tactics were employed to deal with narcotics trafficking and went wrong was in the small section known as Santa Marta, In Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The authorities employed a heavy and sustained police presence, cordoning off the area and challenging all civilians. Though many narcotics traffickers were identified and apprehended, the tactic served to alienate the population and provide tacit support for the drug cartels. The Convergence Strategy practitioner, like the counterinsurgent, must never be perceived as the aggressor or he will lose his status with and the support of the populace.
From and organizational stand point the following design elements and questions should be considered.
- Strategic Design –how the department is organized at the macro level to achieve the objectives of convergence strategies in the long term (multi-year activities).
- Operational Design – how the department is organized to achieve the objectives of convergent strategies in the mid-term (annual activities).
- Tactical Design – how the department is organized, trained and equipped to achieve the objectives in the near term (daily activities).
- Department should rethink strategic risk in terms of achieving the desired end states of convergence.
- Open strategic, operational and tactical physical and logical lines of operation to plan, implement and access convergence.
- Systems perspective of convergence demands a “whole of the department” and “whole of the city” approach when planning, implementing and accessing convergence.
- Discuss the need to understand the dominant, secondary and tertiary aspects of each adversary organization or individual of interest.
- Leverage each others knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences to develop a global network of “convergence minded” entities with common ideas and activities in the urgent need to counter adversary ideas and activities.
- Engage sister organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the International Association of law Enforcement Intelligence Analyst to broaden the scope, range and reach of convergence thought to ensure it’s maturity occurs at the earliest possible time.
- Understanding, anticipating, addressing and defeating “anti-access” strategies that may be employed by adversaries and/or the public.
- What are the critical information requirements that will drive convergence?
- How can the objectives of convergence be achieved at the earliest opportunity while expending the minimum level of resources?
- How can we empower the “strategic patrol officer” in the same manner the military seeks to empower the “strategic corporal” on patrol in Iraq, Afghanistan, elsewhere?
- How will the implementation of convergence affect existing relationships at the international, federal, state, local and tribal level?
Effective convergence strategy will be the opposite of rapid and decisive. It will be slow and deliberate with success coming more from patient use of stabilizing security pressure, community outreach, and social service facilitation than from the outcome of traditional kinetic battles. Depriving convergent threats (insurgents) of their support and appeal may be a straighter path to victory than direct engagement. Effective implementation of convergence strategy will demand learning and adaptability on the part of law enforcement and community leaders. Convergence strategy is an economy of force measure. Through the development of closer ties between the local populace and law enforcement the quality of predictive capability and capacity increases. Success in may be initially difficult to define. But the improved community governance will bring about marginalization of the convergent threats (insurgents) to the point at which they are destroyed, co-opted or reduced to irrelevance in numbers and capability. Ultimately, the desired end state is a strategy that is seen as legitimate, employing social, political, economic, and security measures that meet the population’s needs, including adequate mechanisms to address the grievances that may have fueled support of the insurgency.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author’s and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Los Angeles Police Department or any government agency.
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 Ibid. The period known as “the Troubles” began in 1968 and ended in 1994. It began as a violent conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and evolved into a full blown insurgency involving, at its peak, almost 30,000 British soldiers to quell.
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