Since the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London, police forces nationally have implemented successive counter-radicalisation policies. Community Policing and Preventing Extremism, based on a series of interviews with senior police officers from the West Yorkshire Police and the North East Counter-Terrorism Unit, provides a practical perspective on the challenges of delivering preventative work at grassroots level as well as on policy debates about the remit of counter-extremism in a free society.
Key findings include:
- The police advocate building sustainable relationships with communities based on mutual trust and confidence; and recognise the need to be representative and to respond to changing community dynamics;
- A focus on successful community policing and “quality of life issues” allows the police to proactively create resilient partnerships rather than attempting to force a relationship in response to a counter-radicalisation-related issue;
- A strategic mechanism for supporting the ideological challenge against extremism is promoting critical thinking skills and credible voices, which builds resilience against extremism; helps isolate extremists; and promotes dialogue around other controversial issues, such as grooming;
- Promoting safe giving is a key response to the religious injunction for charity within Muslim communities, which can increase vulnerability to fundraising for criminal or terrorist intent and to intimidating styles of fundraising that take advantage of a generous and permissive cultural attitude towards giving;
- Police forces are well-placed to identify grievances and negative perceptions within communities. Successful work around education, internet safety and grooming demonstrates the value of promoting counter-radicalisation as a safeguarding issue rather than simply as a counter-terrorism tool;
- Among the biggest challenges anticipated for 2015 is ensuring consistency in relation to freedom of speech and the thresholds used to measure extremism, particularly as it manifests either online or in public situations, for example at universities and during political protests.
Hannah Stuart, HJS Research Fellow and author of the report, commented:
“New legislation puts a statutory duty on specified bodies, like local authorities and schools, to prevent people being drawn into terrorism. Police experiences delivering counter-radicalisation policies over the last decade can help identify good practice and common challenges.
“Key areas of engagement are the promotion of critical thinking and credible voices to enable young people in particular to resist the extremist ideas that can form part of terrorist ideology.
“The West Yorkshire Police and other forces work hard to gain the trust of the communities they serve and it’s testament to those relationships that worrying issues like intimidating fundraising are being raised.
“The UK’s charitable sector is often targeted by those looking to exploit people’s generosity for criminal or terrorist intent. Greater scrutiny of this area – from the police, local authorities and the Charity Commission – is needed, and more needs to be done to challenge unregistered charities in particular.
“This or any other future government must also do more to challenge the negative perceptions of counter-radicalisation measures, which are being fuelled by extremists with divisive and sectarian agendas. In this regard, the police believe that counter-radicalisation is foremost a safeguarding issue and stress the importance of working with multiple partners to broaden support for their work”.