Several organizations were invited to the workshop to present their approaches to countering violent extremism. Speakers and workshop participants discussed policy and practical frameworks that are currently used to disrupt an individual’s progression from radicalization to violent extremism. The strategies presented identified shared challenges such as how the gaps in research affect best practices and the trial of fitting practical solutions into political realities.
Romaniuk explained that the Global Center on Cooperative Security has had a work stream on CVE and evaluation since 2012; one of its outputs was the 2015 report Does CVE Work?: Lessons Learned from the Global Effort to Counter Violent Extremism.1 The report compares different types of CVE programs using a basic typology of CVE measures to examine variance in scope, causal mechanism, implementing agents, and activities undertaken. The scope of CVE measures may be directed at an entire population at the macrolevel; it may be targeted toward communities at the mesolevel; or it may be geared toward vulnerable individuals at the microlevel. CVE spans a wide range of activities, including traditional overseas development work, domestic crime and gang prevention programs, sports programs, and maternal support programs.
The 2015 report also examined the policy process underlying the development and implementation of CVE and generated a basic four-step policy cycle for how CVE ought to be addressed (see Figure 3-1).
The first step is assessment; Romaniuk noted that because there is no universally accepted theory of terrorism (a highly contextual phenom-
1 Available at http://www.globalcenter.org/publications/does-cve-work-lessons-learned-from-the-global-effort-to-counter-violent-extremism (accessed November 8, 2016).
enon), the first step in undertaking CVE should be to assess and define the problem. The policy development phase was designed to facilitate the development of a proportional response considered to be effective against the defined problem. The implementation phase should aim to tactically achieve the defined objectives, followed by an evaluation phase to determine whether it had the desired effect.
Romaniuk explained that in developing the report, he and his team found that the field of CVE skewed toward policy development and implementation but not the assessment and evaluation of those efforts. Evidence-based policy will require researching and strengthening the assessment and the evaluation phases, he advised. Romaniuk outlined the substantive les-
sons learned from the efforts. The research demonstrated that evaluating CVE programs is both feasible and valuable, particularly if the program implementer or sponsor invests resources and effort in undertaking robust evaluations. While there was not a clear evidence base for developing and implementing CVE policy, there is clear guidance about what should not be done, with past evaluations highlighting missteps and unintended consequences in engaging programs at the community level.
The first best practice is to know your audience and to understand how a CVE program might be received in the community in which it is implemented. For example, the intended beneficiaries of CVE programs may not have a nuanced understanding of the shift from counterterrorism to CVE and thus may be predisposed to experiencing CVE programs as a sometimes unwelcome imposition. However, Romaniuk cautioned that governments have varying levels of expertise in terms of engaging at the community level. To help address this, he suggested that “states should use soft power softly.”
The second suggestion is to avoid stigmatization. The first rollout of CVE programs around the world had a stigmatizing effect, especially in Muslim communities, because informing a community that it will be the beneficiary of—or subject to—a CVE program implies that it is vulnerable to violent extremism. This may be at odds with the community’s self-perception and can be quite offensive, as evidenced by program evaluations. Many people who were asked to implement CVE programs felt that stigmatizing effect as well. School teachers, for example, were reluctant to stigmatize their students and compromise their own relationships with them.
Thirdly, clear messaging is critical. From a community perspective, it can be difficult to disaggregate traditional counterterrorism and CVE, explained Romaniuk. This issue arose in the United Kingdom among Muslim communities who were identified as being the beneficiaries of “prevent” programming2 but felt that they were being subjected to “pursue” measures.
While working on a project aimed at preventing abuse of the nonprofit sector for the purpose of terrorist financing, Romaniuk noted the delicate nature of the relationship between state and civil society stakeholders. On one hand, governments tend to be suspicious of the vulnerability of nonprofits to be abused for terrorist financing; on the other hand, those same governments are looking for trusted partners to engage and help deliver the CVE message. Often a community will be the recipient of mixed messaging, interpreting the government as saying that the community is vulnerable
2 The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 in the United Kingdom specified a duty authorities have to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. Program information about the duty guidance can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/prevent-duty-guidance (accessed January 17, 2017).
to terrorist financing, but at the same time it is a trusted partner for the purpose of CVE.
The final suggestions were to engage broadly and partner strategically. He reported that the evaluation research included much discussion of what constitutes a community leader and the best broker for the government. He noted the importance of considering, without cynicism, what prospective partners have to gain from engaging in CVE. Some communities may have mixed motives in this regard: being the beneficiary of a CVE program implicitly advertises suspected vulnerability and may have other negative repercussions, but it may also result in financial resources. Finding trusted partners requires thinking through the difficulty of identifying these individuals and entities and creating the kinds of relationships that are fruitful.
Romaniuk explained that the evaluations of the first wave of CVE programming highlighted the need for a “do no harm” style of approach, which was then integrated into the second wave of programs. He commended the second wave of CVE programming as being, on the whole, better targeted and less likely to stigmatize and cause offense on the macrolevel because of better communication strategies. On the mesolevel, second-wave programs also tend to be more focused on behavioral radicalization. That is, they are more focused on identifying and assisting individuals with “bad ideas” and who are committed to acting upon them, rather than toward people who might be cognitively radicalized but do not have the intent to act. Intervention programs on the microlevel, he noted, have also yielded better results.
Strong Cities Network
The Strong Cities Network is a network of cities around the world working to synthesize best practices among initiatives to address community polarization and counter violent extremism.3,4 Rebecca Skellett explained that the network aims to support cities and other local authorities on an international basis and to enhance local approaches to prevent violent extremism by facilitating information sharing, mutual learning, and creation of new and innovative local practices. The network’s key tenets are to connect, inform, empower, build, innovate, and represent. Skellett noted
4 The network comprises 60 members from 34 countries (and growing), led by a steering committee of 25 city members, of which 8 are in the United States.
that member cities take a wide range of approaches. Some approaches are targeted at raising community awareness of available resources; others include active prevention in their scope, such as exploring different mechanisms by which to receive referrals; still others are very targeted in terms of understanding how best to engage individuals deemed to be at risk.
Skellett drew on her experiences with the Strong Cities Network and as a practitioner with the Prevent program in the United Kingdom to draft a list of key decisions to be considered when working with individuals at risk of radicalization. She noted it can be difficult to tread the line between achieving good outcomes for people through CVE interventions and addressing the serious political caveats imposed on any work in such a sensitive arena.
She presented the following questions for consideration:
- Should group interventions or individual interventions be used?
- Is it more important to address an individual’s ideology or an individual’s identity (and the vulnerabilities related to each)? She emphasized that this should be a critical prioritization, and it is the subject of diverse opinions globally and locally.
- Should the focus be on deradicalization, disengagement, or mainstreaming? She noted that the former two options are the most commonly discussed and employed, but she suggested that the newer mainstreaming option should be considered. The mainstreaming approach to radicalization would involve integrating it into all public services, coupled with a baseline awareness of the need for cooperation.
- Should the schemes be mandatory or voluntary?
- Should the approach involve working with criminals or working only with individuals who are not in the criminal space?
- Is it beneficial or not to involve former extremists who can share their experiences and exit stories, with the aim of dissuading others from taking a similar path?
- Should efforts be led nationally with federal structures, or led locally by organic grassroots programs? If a locally led approach is adopted, how should programs be selected?
- Should efforts involve a single agency or multiple agencies? Should prison and probation approaches be used?
- To achieve sustainable outcomes for individuals, is it better to use impartial “active listening” approaches or judgement-based approaches?
- Should the approach encompass all types of extremist ideologies or just a single one?
Skellett observed that the breadth of individualized risk factors for radicalization, coupled with country-specific priorities and values, has given rise to a similarly broad range of approaches and interventions for countering radicalization across the world. Table 3-1 provides a taxonomy of counterradicalization intervention approaches.
Skellett explained that diversionary tactics may not address violent extremism directly; they aim to imbue people with a sense of identity, self, and comradery that they might otherwise seek by joining an organization that favors violence. For a decade, the London Tigers group, based in the United Kingdom, has used such diversionary strategies to engage former and current gang members and engender a sense of brotherhood through sport. She explained that based on this work, the group recently expanded into the realm of CVE by taking referrals from the United Kingdom’s national CVE structure (the Prevent and Channel programs), with a new focus on how to build a sense of identity that encompasses both religion and a sense of national heritage.
She referred to the Montreal Center in Canada as having an approach to CVE centered on psychological disengagement from a very public health-oriented perspective, with a focus on individuals in the medium risk (pre-
TABLE 3-1 Range of Counterradicalization Intervention Approaches
|Diversionary tactics||London Tigers, United Kingdom|
|Psychological disengagement||CPRLV, Montreal Center, Canada|
|Realignment of interests and integration||Aarhus model, Denmark|
|Family-led models||Hayat, East Germany|
|Nationally directed models||Channel Programme United Kingdom, Danish Security and Intelligence model|
|Socioeconomic models||Italy, Saudi Arabia|
|Disruption models||Mumbai Police Force, India (and many others)|
|Punitive models||Medellin, Columbia (FARC peace deals)|
|Community models||Active Change Foundation, United Kingdom|
|Religious-led models||Committee for Dialogue, Yemen|
|Models led by exited/former extremists||EXIT-Germany, ExitUSA, Life After Hate|
NOTE: CPRLV = Center for the Prevention of Radicalization Leading to Violence; FARC = Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
SOURCE: Skellett presentation, September 7, 2016.
violence) space. The Aarhus Model in Denmark uses an approach focused on realignment of interests and improved integration among individuals who have returned from abroad, according to Skellett. She noted that the intervention aims at capacity building, casework support, and advising critical aftercare centers at the municipal level. Both the Channel program in the United Kingdom and Hayat in Germany are counterradicalization initiatives that address ideology and identity as equally important issues. Channel uses a multiagency joint referral model that has a national infrastructure that is adapted and delivered locally. Channel includes a panel of experts from the local community (such as social workers, or people who know the individual who has been referred) who work together to discuss risks and appropriate next steps. She noted that Channel is a voluntary intervention process that requires participants’ consent to participate. Skellet went on to explain that Hayat focuses specifically on Al-Qaeda and ISIL narratives and ideologies, and it relies on counselors to act as bridges between institutions, individuals at risk, and their families. Hayat has two different channels for referral, a government hotline and a community hotline, both of which offer first-line assessments. She explained that the use of two avenues of referral is predicated on the value of a double-edged approach that can facilitate people who are comfortable contacting a government authority as well as people who are more comfortable contacting a community structure.
Other counterradicalization initiatives take the approach of socioeconomic and monetary dissuasion, she noted. Saudi Arabia’s Counseling program, for example, is founded on the idea that an individual must be able to satisfy basic needs in order to foster a sense of belonging. She explained that the program provides employment, transportation, funds, and housing for families who are recruited and then holds the beneficiaries financially and socially accountable. Saudi Arabia claims an 80–90 percent success rate for the program (as of 2008, 3,000 people had passed through the program).5 She noted that Italy has begun a program to explore culture mechanisms of assimilation. Starting in September 2016, more than 500,000 18-year-old citizens of the European Union living in Italy (regardless of ethnicity or religion) became eligible to receive vouchers valued at more than $500 each, which allow recipients to visit museums for free and go to concerts and movies for reduced prices.
Responding to a question about why the United States may not be as far along in the CVE space as other countries, Skellett said that the U.S. governance structures, with each state having a large degree of autonomy,
5 Aliya Saeed, psychiatrist, Vanguard Medical, disagreed with characterizing the Saudi Arabia program as deradicalization, given that it is a country that carries out public beheadings and amputations.
are very different than those in many countries. This creates a host of challenges for CVE that are not faced by countries where programs operate on a national level, she remarked. Civil liberties and the balance of beliefs are also critical differentiating components that should be carefully considered, she suggested. In Europe, for example, there are more restrictions on freedoms of expression, particularly with respect to language that incites hate and violence.
Skellett outlined some broad observations about the approaches employed by the range of CVE models. She observed that consensual programs can work most effectively, and locally led programs have more credibility; however, earning community trust and buy-in is never easily achieved. Furthermore, it is becoming more commonplace for programs to be positioned within existing support structures and services that tackle ideology as a secondary issue. Regardless of the type of CVE approach, she advised that consistent and long-term support for individuals and families is critical.
Skellett said that engaging former extremists and survivors in CVE efforts can help other community members to better understand and discuss issues around radicalization. As an example, she referred to the Against Violent Extremism Network,6 which features several survivors and former extremists who tell their stories with humility and compassion; it aims to promote the idea that radicalization is a fairly common social process by which people can be exploited and manipulated toward something that provides them a sense of significance.
Tailored individual programs should address social and personal needs, according to Skellett. She described how the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London has created a mechanism for delivering one-to-one interventions online,7 which moderates many of the risks that are associated with directly motivated individual interventions, such as tarnishing personal reputations or labelling people.
The Building Resilience Against Violent Extremism (BRAVE) Program
Mehreen Farooq, senior fellow at the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE),8 explained that WORDE uses a research-informed foundation for promoting understanding between communities to mitigate social and political conflict. She described WORDE’s establishment of the International Cultural Center in Montgomery County, Maryland, in 2011. The Build Resilience Against Violent Extremism
(BRAVE) model was developed to engage residents in a wide variety of initiatives, premised on principles of social integration theory, that aim to promote pluralism and social cohesion. According to Farooq, research suggests that if appropriate care is not taken, bringing disparate communities together can actually reinforce the differences between groups, which can further fuel misconceptions of “the other” and increase intergroup tensions. To successfully bridge the intergroup divide in ways that create lasting change, she suggested participants must be of equal status and be brought together in a friendly environment to work toward common goals and foster a sense of interdependence.
Farooq described how WORDE has developed an innovative four-part collective impact initiative for the prevention and intervention of violent extremism, by effectively leveraging the robust partnerships with diverse communities that were developed over the years in Montgomery County. Unlike other CVE programs that may only engage one faith or ethnic community, this model involves more than 300 different faith-based organizations and community service providers. Adopting this type of holistic approach avoids stigmatizing any single faith community, she explained.
The first component of the initiative is to identify and engage a wide range of stakeholders, who can form an early warning network of trusted adults. She remarked that by bringing these diverse stakeholders together, the program fosters trust between diverse communities. This in turn has increased participants’ willingness to tackle issues of shared concern in a collaborative way, such as addressing bullying-related issues or finding ways to integrate faith leaders in emergency management and disaster relief. Consequently, she contended that the WORDE model has changed the face of community organizing and even community policing: rather than law enforcement reaching out to communities on an individualized or targeted basis, the police department has increased its effort to engage civil society as a whole.
The second component of the initiative is to educate stakeholders about the range of public safety threats, including the risk factors for radicalization and recruitment to violent extremism. She explained that to date, hundreds of local law enforcement officers, teachers, and faith community members have already received training. A special peer gatekeeper training program for youth has also been developed to promote help-seeking behaviors. According to Farooq, the aim of this program is to educate youth that just as it is important to look out for peers who might be suffering from depression, drug abuse, or suicidal ideation, it is equally important to recognize when a peer may be vulnerable to recruitment to violent extremism.
The third component of the initiative ensures that stakeholders are connected with public and private resources that can provide counseling and other social safety services for vulnerable individuals, she explained. The
fourth component is to have the program work with trained professionals situated within a culturally competent trauma-informed network to provide counseling, mentoring, mental health services, and other direct services to troubled individuals before they choose a path of violence. She remarked that the initiative has established its own social service agency to assist traditionally underserved populations.
A 2-year mixed-methods evaluation funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) found that the approach has had a positive effect in Montgomery County,9 explained Farooq. Specifically, the programs were found to be effective in 12 out of 14 CVE-specific measures. She reported that the evaluation found that program participants felt welcome, felt they were part of something bigger than themselves, and felt like the programs made people feel useful and cultivated a sense of purpose in their lives. It provided participants with a safe space of acceptance, free of any peer pressure, where they could learn about other cultures and make lasting friendships. In evaluating the youth gatekeeper trainings, she reported that the NIJ study and WORDE’s own assessment data indicate that participants felt that they had increased communication skills, had strengthened conflict transformation skills, and had gained help-seeking behaviors for themselves and their peers. She noted that participants also had greater trust in local law enforcement, who were now perceived as a resource to help address potential conflict in communities. An overview of lessons learned are noted in Box 3-1.
She posited that the initiative addresses many of the potential psychosocial risk factors associated with radicalization. Farooq explained that the key question is how to determine if the initiative has managed to prevent violent extremist acts. Yet, it is impossible to conclude that any single intervention has stopped somebody from committing an act of violent extremism. However, she noted that by using intake assessments and end-line evaluations (i.e., intermediary outcomes), it is possible to determine if a program has helped to decrease certain potential risk factors of radicalization while also increasing protective factors.
Safe Spaces Initiative
Alejandro Beutel, a researcher on countering violent extremism for the National Consortium for START at the University of Maryland, talked about his experiences in helping to develop the Safe Spaces initiative in
9 While not mentioned at the workshop, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have expressed dissenting opinions to Congress regarding the limitations of the evaluation of the BRAVE model. See https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/Nguyen%20Krueger%20WORDE%20final%20%284%29.pdf (accessed February 1, 2017).
2014 while he was working with the nonprofit Muslim Public Affairs Council.10 He described how the initiative was sourced and developed in order to strengthen American Muslim communities and address issues of sustainability for the future of Islam in America. He explained that Safe Spaces was initially motivated by the policy paper Building Bridges to Strengthen America (Beutel, 2009), which attempted to parse out the issues of violence—that is, unlawful criminal behaviors—and extremism, which is generally construed as lawful, if distasteful, views related to violence and politics in society. The paper’s position held that communities and government agencies in societies need to work together, but there needs to be a division of labor: civil society should address the extremism that may facilitate violence in some cases; law enforcement and government should address the criminal activity. He explained that the Safe Spaces initiative enters into that larger strategy by working to find ways to implement such a division of labor.
Beutel emphasized that the Safe Spaces initiative focuses on preventive rather than predictive efforts.11 He characterized the concept of prevention in this context as essentially about building healthy communities: community capacity building, public health, strengthening families, strengthening individual’s identities, civic empowerment, and educating young people to be savvy consumers of information. The aim is to create inclusive, strong, welcoming environments that are not CVE specific, but CVE relevant, he clarified. He suggested that making healthy communities the initiative’s primary objective effectively diffuses benefits into a host of other psychosocial and public safety issues, including CVE.
Beutel pointed out that even the strongest, healthiest communities will always have some individuals who require some form of intervention. For that reason, the Safe Spaces’ model incorporates multidisciplinary teams that include social workers, mental health professionals, religious workers, and spokespeople for defusing rumors and resolving misunderstandings. He described how the concept of the intervention team was adapted from methods used to prevent mass shootings in schools, workplaces, and public spaces. This strategy is grounded in empirical work that suggests that potential behavioral and facilitating factors can overlap between a school shooter and a lone actor terrorist. He noted that the initiative also encourages communities to obtain legal counsel for the purposes of protection, awareness of legal rights, and mitigation of potential legal liabilities.12
Implementing the Safe Spaces model is context specific and dependent on the communities’ needs and capabilities, explained Beutel. In the initial phase, a Safe Spaces’ coordinator reaches out to the local community and performs a baseline assessment of its needs, capabilities, and opportunities for enhancement. Baseline training is modified appropriately before being implemented in the community, supplemented by follow-up booster training and 2-year-long complementary evaluations. He remarked that two of the biggest barriers to entry for many communities are the lack of capacity and the inability to facilitate the best evaluation possible through consistent data-gathering methods.
Beutel reiterated that in order to gain better traction in communities, Safe Spaces does not explicitly situate itself within a CVE framework. This
11 Beutel clarified that predictive efforts concentrate on determining the accuracy of whether or not an individual will commit an act of violence. Preventive measures focus on two different strands: developing a rapid and context-specific analysis of a potential threat posed by an individual; and connecting the person of concern to protective resources that will mitigate his or her context-specific issues moving him or her along a pathway into violent action.
12 For example, those that surround material support for ideologically motivated violence, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) laws, Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (when dealing with students), the 1974 Privacy Act, and Tarasoff laws at the state-to-state level.
also allows for the initiative to be better aligned with public health framing and for the training that the initiative provides to serve multiple functions. He explained that the move away from CVE framing arose out of feedback—and in some cases, pushback—from community members who associate CVE with government overreach, or who do not feel that CVE-framed programs are relevant to the issues they face on a daily basis, such as anti-Muslim bigotry, identity crises, and violent gangs.
The Approach to CVE in Los Angeles
Haroon Azar, the regional director of the Office of Community Partnerships-Los Angeles, DHS, and Joumana Silyan-Saba, director of Strategies Against Violent Extremism, Mayor’s Office of Public Safety, City of Los Angeles, provided an overview of some of the policy underpinnings and strategic objectives of the approach taken at the local government level to CVE in Los Angeles, California. In 2011, the federal government released an interagency national strategy, Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States (The White House, 2011), which advocated an approach to CVE that concentrates on local activities entrenched within communities. Silyan-Saba reflected that over the years, challenges and lessons learned through activities in Los Angeles have spurred evolution on multiple fronts for approaching these complex CVE-related issues, such as redefining the core concepts of radicalization and counterradicalization and shifting activities toward the social domain and away from the traditional law enforcement counterterrorism lens. Azar described how this collaborative work led to the formalization of a three-pronged framework for codifying CVE activities: prevention, intervention, and interdiction.
Silyan-Saba likened CVE efforts in the social domain to a spectrum or continuum of services, with pillars representing preventative actions, intervention activities, and law enforcement that operate separately but collectively providing a holistic strategy. She suggested that one end of the spectrum, the pillar of prevention, should be the core of building a healthy community—even if the activities that strengthen it are not specifically labelled as CVE or carried out by entities exclusively devoted to CVE. According to Azar, the prevention pillar of the framework is aimed at creating environments that are hostile to violent extremist ideologies or other types of bad actors seeking to penetrate, influence, and recruit members of the community.
Moving into the intervention space of the continuum, Silyan-Saba remarked, reveals many layers to contend with in terms of what the interventions mean, what they look like, and how they address the multiple needs to be met. Azar commented that the intervention component was the least developed at the initial stage, but the approach has since changed direction to
encourage participation from entities and institutions in other spheres: public health, mental health, and the social services. Silyan-Saba reported that three groups (the Operational Development Committee, the Community Advisory Committee, and the Interagency Coordination group) comprising multidisciplinary expertise have been convened by the Los Angeles mayor’s office and regional DHS office to bolster the intervention pillar. Silyan-Saba provided an overview of each of those group’s mandates. The Operational Development Committee is focused on the operational concerns, examining how to build capacity within existing operations and create multiple referral processes to enable individuals and communities to access the services they need. She clarified that in terms of operational structure, the group is examining how to deal with violence in general as well as how to carve out a nuanced approach to violent extremism. The Community Advisory Committee is tasked with developing a conceptual and practical understanding of how to build a network of services (rather than a single program) to support and meet the needs of individuals and communities, she explained. The Interagency Coordination group is investigating how to meet the community’s needs as a way of expanding the CVE space beyond law enforcement parameters and into the social domain. She noted that this transition will require meaningful dialogue and shared learning about how to support the work already being done in communities and to inform how communities are engaged going forward.
Silyan-Saba emphasized that this network of services, interventions, and activities needs to be carried out by community-based organizations operating at a grassroots level, not by government or government entities. To that end, a community advisory group of local expertise was convened to ensure that genuine community-led interventions are being put into place within the network. She argued that the government’s role should be to support those community-led prevention efforts and interventions. However, she noted that there has not been any CVE-designated funding for Los Angeles to date; everything they have achieved has been driven by recognition of need and by sincere interest in understanding how to best meet the community’s needs.
Jihad Turk, the president and dean of the Islamic Graduate School at Bayan Claremont University, presented another approach to CVE taking place in Los Angeles County. He explained that mental health training is part of the education provided to students at his graduate seminary, who will go on to become religious leaders serving Muslim communities across the United States. Topics of study include basic counseling methods and means of identifying young people who are at risk, whom they can then refer to mental health professionals. The aim is to provide those students with an understanding of the CVE space and of the intersection of government relations, civic engagement, and law enforcement.
A common grievance among many ISIL recruits, according to Turk, is a sense that America is at war with Islam; this is often coupled with an ill-adjusted attitude or identity. He suggested that this attitude may also be shared by other community members who are refugees from war-torn areas, or are from ethnic or racial backgrounds that are not well integrated into society. Addressing this issue of identity formation, argued Turk, is important for the community. He posited that part of the mandate of the American Muslim community and leadership is to help young people become well-adjusted in their American Muslim identity, and “to have an identity that is not in conflict with itself.” He suggested that it would be helpful to have that idea reinforced by the government, law enforcement, and the population at large.
Turk went on to say that given the history and missteps of the past, the landscape of engagement with the Muslim community is a treacherous one, but he expressed confidence that progress could be made. He commended the trajectory that he has seen in the government approach: “some transition, some humility, some admissions of missteps.” He was also hopeful that the high-profile nature of violent extremism, and specifically violence associated with the Islamic faith, would translate into government funding for CVE. He also called for health efforts to play a central role in helping serve the needs of the entire community and address issues of violence. He concluded that building more resilient and healthy communities will require backing away from this securitized relationship with the Muslim community and allow for all Americans of diverse backgrounds and faiths to work together.
Azar remarked that the change to a mental health and public health approach was also a response to direct community feedback about a standalone CVE intervention program and the community’s concerns about stigmatization, funding, responsibility, and legal and privacy issues. This motivated the decision to make the U.S. Department of Mental Health (DMH) in Los Angeles County the initial focus. He noted DMH’s resources are underused by the community both inside and outside of the CVE realm; for example, the DMH reported that they have a $100,000 per annum grant for promoting interfaith community awareness, but no Muslim organizations have taken advantage of that funding in the previous 10 years. He expressed confidence that through cross sector inclusion and convening powers within the CVE space, there will be more resources available to increase the capacity of social service organizations and assist them in finding potential funding opportunities.
Azar reported that despite the strength of efforts in the interdiction pillar, to date those activities have not resulted in a perceptible reduction of threats or of recruitment efforts. However, he noted that the change toward the public health lens has yielded other measurable results. He described a
recent exercise that was designed to help build out the precriminal intervention space by assessing the current capability and capacity for dealing with a person who professes an extremist ideology but who has not engaged in criminal activity.13 Multiple partners participated and observed, including community members, mental health and social services professionals, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), civil rights organizations,14 the FBI, local law enforcement, DHS, and others. Azar judged the exercise as very successful in exposing the complexity of developing effective and appropriate interventions in this precriminal space. By sharing perspectives, the participants in the exercise identified both commonalities and gaps to be filled. According to Azar, the exercise generated new partnerships with community-based organizations for trainings, and it resulted in the provision of new community awareness briefings.
Downing offered a law enforcement perspective on the citywide three-pillar framework for approaching CVE in Los Angeles. He explained that the approach to counterterrorism adopted by the LAPD can be distilled to the following equation: “operational capability plus motivation equals terrorism.” Operational capability refers to elements such as recruitment, funding, preoperational planning, and execution of plans. He noted that the department works to diminish these types of operational capabilities in cooperation with federal partners, including the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Joint Regional Intelligence Center. Work on the motivation piece focuses on community outreach and engagement, and efforts are strengthened by partnerships with NGOs, communities, and the federal government, among many others. Downing commented,
The approach there is not to create an inoculation against violent extremism, but to develop a prescription for healthy, resilient, strong communities where we build hostility towards [violent extremism] so it is harder to take root in communities.
He suggested that the prevention component is relatively strong, owing in large part to enhanced community-oriented policing strategies that incorporate a nuanced understanding of the context, history, and motivations of diasporas and other communities. He described the objectives of community-oriented policing: teaching problem-solving skills, encouraging
13 Held under the Regional Steering Committee in partnership with the Los Angeles County DMH, the Los Angeles Office of the Mayor, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Health.
14 Rondon emphasized the importance of ensuring that the civil rights organizations observing the process are actually credible, owing to concerns about cherry picking particular organizations based on their particular viewpoints.
civic engagement, and focusing on women’s groups and youth. As an example of a current LAPD initiative in this space, he referred to the Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau liaison program, which is staffed by people from the community who match the people being served in terms of ethnicity, culture, religion, and language. He explained that the department leverages interfaith engagement as a strength for employing innovative techniques to educate the community about hate and violent extremism, with the aim of trying to stop bigotry before it starts. He reported that a group of Muslim community members serve as part of an advisory board that meets regularly. Social media and the arts are also used as catalysts for discussion about the issues of bigotry, hatred, prejudice, and discrimination.
Downing remarked that the intervention component is very complex. To illustrate, he looked back on the gang violence that pervaded Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s, when the number of homicides in the city exceeded 1,100 per year, 80 percent of which were gang related. The LAPD famously declared war on the gangs, implementing operation plans with names like “Operation Hammer” and “Operation Battle Plans.” He reflected that this strategy was founded on the mistaken idea that they could arrest their way out of the problem, which was not only ineffective but ultimately did more harm than good as made evident by the community’s lack of trust in the department. Downing described how the LAPD began looking for ways to balance its efforts. They considered the need to arrest the leaders and other people actively recruiting young people, executing drive-by shootings, and committing mass murder. However, they started also looking for opportunities on the other end of the spectrum: intervention, deflection, diversion, building “off-ramps on the road to violence,” encouraging character development, and supporting job placement. They employed “interventionists,” credible voices who have experiences that allow them to empathize and connect with community members. Downing believes that because LAPD is striking the appropriate balance between arrests and other interventions, the number of homicides in Los Angeles dropped to 250–300 per year between 2004 and 2016, with less than 50 percent of those being gang related.
Downing provided an overview of a new intervention model called Recognizing Extremist Network Early Warnings (RENEW), a collaboration among the LAPD, the Los Angeles County DMH, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and the FBI.15 The RENEW model was adapted from a structure that already existed in the LAPD, called the Crisis Response Support Section (part of the Medical Evaluation Unit). Comprising 115 police officers and 50 clinicians from DMH, the structure was designed to address Los Angeles’ large homeless population, many of whom were suffering from
15 As of September 2016 the program had not yet been implemented.
mental illness. Downing noted that building on an infrastructure already in place has expedited the RENEW program’s design and implementation.
Downing outlined the procedural plan for how the steering committee envisions the RENEW program (see Figure 3-2).
The RENEW coordinator is positioned within LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit (MEU) in the Crisis Response Support Section (CRSS). The RENEW process is initiated when the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF)/Major Crimes Division (MCD) liaison notifies the RENEW coordinator that they would like the program to consider an encountered subject. Any calls from the public about individuals in the community who may benefit from RENEW assessment are also referred to the RENEW coordinator.
Once a referral is received, the coordinator contacts the Joint Regional Intelligence Center (JRIC), where a full workup on the subject is compiled. The JRIC subject workup provides comprehensive information about the individual, including social media analysis, criminal records, probation and warrants, weapons, travel details, financial records, and any other information deemed to be relevant.
The workup is provided to the RENEW coordinator, who chooses whether to forward it either to the Case Assessment Management Program (CAMP) or to the System-wide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART). CAMP is a joint LAPD-DMH program that tracks incidents created by individuals who may be suffering from mental illness. SMART is another joint LAPD-DMH program that responds to situations and provides crisis intervention.
The CAMP or SMART team assesses the individual and, depending on the circumstances, suggests one of the following three options:
- Immediate action required: The subject is a threat to him- or herself or others and needs to be placed on a 5150 hold for evaluation.
- Outpatient therapy suggested: While the subject is not an immediate danger, he or she is exhibiting signs of mental illness that are best served through an outpatient therapy program.
- Subject would benefit from social services: In this instance, there may be no mental illness, but the subject may be isolated and would respond positively to integration with community or social services such as a mentorship, cross-cultural programs, or advice about other resources available to him or her.
Next, the RENEW coordinator resubmits the updated package and provides feedback to the JTTF. Downing emphasized that these are criminal cases that were opened because there was reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime was about to take place. Such cases remain open until it has been determined that the person has been successfully integrated.
Downing emphasized that the policy does not allow profiling of people, only criminal behaviors. He explained that another LAPD program, the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) program, has been used to institutionalize an ideological shift from profiling people to profiling behaviors. SARs are used to document any reported or observed activity, or any criminal act or attempted criminal act, which an officer believes may reveal a nexus to foreign or domestic violent extremism. He noted that SAR reports are audited by the inspector general on a yearly basis to provide the community a sense of fairness, honesty, authenticity, and transparency. He explained that the LAPD is trying to create a culture of first preventers rather than first responders in counterterrorism. Downing clarified that the LAPD provides
training on constitutional policing and on suspicious activity reporting for officers, command staff, and communities. He explained that all such policies remain in place with the DMH with regard to the information they provide in the criminal space. The JTTF receives feedback regarding whether individuals have accepted help and whether they are progressing in terms of the referral, outpatient, or social service work.
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