IACP 2014: Building (and banking) strong relationships before the blast

This type of work has to be approached with a lot of finesse, and that it’s not easy, and that it takes time — most of all, it requires a lot of training.


In a seminar session at IACP 2014, Michael Downing — Deputy Chief of the LAPD Counterterrorism Special Operations Bureau — explained how his agency has established relationships with religious organizations which may have fringe members who might be attracted toward violent extremism. 

Downing explained that they use the principle espoused by Sir Robert Peel that ‘police are the community, and the community are the police’ and have actively recruited officers from a wide variety of religious and ethnic background, and his team uses those individuals to help break down barriers and build better relationships. 

Downing said that agencies should break down barriers before something happens. The agency has approached a variety of non-government organizations and essentially said, ‘We want you to get engaged in civic problem solving — whether that be putting on a domestic violence conference in your community or putting on a fashion show in your community — and we’ll support you in doing that.’

Banking, Left of Boom
“Violent fanaticism comes in all forms,” Downing said. “This isn’t’ a Muslim problem. It isn’t a Jewish problem. It isn’t a Christian or a Sikh problem. It’s everybody’s problem,” concluded. 

Downing said that his officers do much more than attend dinners and go to events — it is very much also about good old fashioned law enforcement. By getting rid of street crime in those affected areas, the people who live there are grateful and tend to put more trust in police. Downing said that this is akin to putting positive credits in the bank — credits which are drawn upon when something bad happens. 

“As we work in the blue — as we work in non-crisis time — is when it’s time to put credits in the bank. When it’s not a crisis, it’s time to develop partnerships, to encourage civic engagement, and to sponsor community events,” he said. 

“We know that cops make mistakes. That may be a bad use of force, a questionable shooting, or something is said that offends people, and those credits are taken out of the bank. But we have to be careful that we don’t go bankrupt. When we go bankrupt, we lose the partnership and leverage that we had that was heading us toward the destination of peace,” Downing said.

Destination of Peace
“Sometimes we have to be soldiers. Sometimes we have to control through force and fear. More often, the way we want it to be is through our role as a public servant — through our role of educating and inspiring common values,” Downing concluded. 

“God forbid that our buildings and our bridges get blown up. But we can build those again— we can restore those. What we really need to protect are the values — the human values — of the country. When you have leaders in the community talk about that, you’re on the road to something.”

To illustrate his point, Downing noted that he was invited to speak before about 6,000 praying Muslims during Ede. He spoke about supporting the Constitution of the United States. He spoke about supporting the values inherent in our country. 

“You’re not supposed to clap when you’re in prayer, but people clapped,” he said.

Downing noted that this type of work has to be approached with a lot of finesse, and that it’s not easy, and that it takes time. Most of all, it requires a lot of training. He outlined a five-part strategy you may wish to adopt, and the line about training won’t surprise you:

1. Foster and enhance trusting partnerships with the community
2. Engage all residents to address public safety matters
3. Leverage public and private stakeholders
4. Utilize all partnerships to counter violent extremism
5. Train all members of the department

“There’s a lot more to this than Community Policing. There’s a lot of training that goes into this so our officers understand the culture, the traditions, the background, and what their grievances are before they even approach these communities,” Downing said. 

From there it becomes an art form — to try to connect all these communities together in an interfaith model. And there’s obviously a lot of training that would go into that as well. Downing did not elaborate on the precise training they do at LAPD. We’ll connect with him sometime down the road to deliver to you further information on that. 

For now, begin to consider who lives in your jurisdiction, and who can help you get closer to them. If you fail to do so, you may allow that one person who is susceptible to radicalization to move in that direction. And that, too, is everybody’s problem. 

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