Policing Terrorists in the Community

Policing Terrorists in the Community

by Sahar F. Aziz

This is the abstract of this paper published in the Harvard National Security Journal, Fall 2013 .  The full paper may be downloaded in PDF format HERE .

Twelve years after the September 11th attacks, countering domestic terrorism remains a top priority for federal law enforcement agencies. Using a variety of reactive and preventive tactics, law enforcement seeks to prevent terrorism before it occurs. Towards that end, community policing developed in the 1990s to combat violent crime in inner city communities is being adopted as a means of collaborating with Muslim communities and local police to combat ‘Islamist homegrown terrorism.’ Developed in response to paramilitary policing models, community policing is built upon the notion that effective policing requires mutual trust and relationships among local law enforcement and the communities they serve. Thus, traditional community policing is premised on their convergence of interests.

While community policing in counter-terrorism appears facially sound, this Article proffers that this endeavor is fraught with peril – both for collective civil liberties interests and local police’s interests in preserving relationships of trust. Accordingly, community policing exacerbates, rather than resolves, the underlying subordination of Muslims post-9/11 manifested in preventive counter-terrorism policies, notwithstanding the increase of homegrown terrorism threats from non-Muslim groups.

The Article asserts three critiques of community policing in counter-terrorism: it is more akin to counter-radicalization taken from military counterinsurgency strategy than the partnership-based traditional community policing model; to the collective detriment of communities it divides them into ‘Good Muslims’ willing to cooperate with law enforcement on the federal government’s terms and ‘Bad Muslims’ who demand a meaningful quid quo pro that ensures protection of Muslim communities’ civil rights and liberties; and it deputizes Muslim leaders to gather and share seemingly innocuous information about their communities that may be used adversely to their collective interests as part of the predominantly prosecution-driven counter-terrorism regime.

As such, CCP as currently envisioned betrays its rhetoric of empowerment and mutual trust, and is just another weapon in the federal government’s toolkit that perpetuates the ‘terrorist other’ stereotype. Unless systemic reforms are made to federal preventive counter-terrorism strategies, community policing is likely to aggravate existing civil liberties violations and impair otherwise good relations between Muslim communities and local police. Thus, a serious rethinking of proposals to implement community policing in counter-terrorism is warranted.